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Why is legal translation so complex?

Published on 28/07/2020

Legal translation is known for its complexity. But where does this complexity come from? Why should a professional legal translator have so many skills? What are the peculiarities and requirements inherent in legal translation?

Main challenges of legal translation

Main challenges of legal translation

In legal translation, more than in any other field, there is no room for error. A translation error in any document of a legal nature, such as commercial lease agreements, company statutes or minutes, can have serious consequences.

It is precisely because of these great challenges that the translator must not simply consider the translation of the text itself. You will also need to ensure that the translation is accurate and respects the characteristics of the translated document in the target language.

Sworn translation versus legal translation

Sworn translation versus legal translation

There are two types of legal translations: Sworn translation and legal translation.

The sworn translation must be carried out by a professional sworn translator appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Spanish Government. Sworn translators are therefore public servants and assume responsibility for the translations they carry out. Sworn translation is used for the translation of official documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, family books, sentences, etc.

Legal translation includes the translation of all other legal documents. Legal translation does not necessarily have to be carried out by a sworn translator appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but this does not make it any less complex or demanding. In fact, it requires a specialized and experienced translator.

Peculiarities of legal translation

Peculiarities of legal translation

In general, legal documents have a number of peculiarities of their own. The legal translation must respect certain peculiarities such as the use of technical terms or expressions, or texts referring to laws. In addition, the translation must be adapted to the peculiarities of the target language, which may be different, since they depend on the legislation of each country.

Every branch of legal translation, from commercial law to tax law to international or intellectual property law, requires experience and specialization in that field.

Legal translation: advanced skills

Legal translation: advanced skills

Given the complexity and challenges of legal translation, a legal translator must have advanced skills in many specialties.

As well as being fluent in two different languages, a legal translator must also have a perfect command of the linguistic peculiarities related to law and to the type of documents he or she translates into both languages. 
Therefore, for example, a legal translator from English to Spanish specialized in the translation of business contracts will have to be proficient in commercial, tax or labor law depending on the type of contract in both Spain and the United States. He should also be fully aware of the differences in legal terminology between the two languages.

Therefore, there is no such thing as a "generalist" legal translator, as it is impossible to know perfectly all branches of the law and to handle all legal documents.

Legal translation is one of the most complex areas of translation. It is a profession that encompasses several areas, as it requires a series of skills in law and linguistics. Moreover, since the challenges are decisive, the translations must be carried out with surgical precision and must be adapted to the linguistic and legal peculiarities of the target language.

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José Gambín's picture
José Gambín

José Gambín holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.

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