What is Legal Translation?

Despite the name, legal translation does not apply only to the legal sector – every business requires legal work, from employee contracts to branching out into new markets. All of these take part in a language of its own – “legalese”, if you will.

That’s why all translators carrying out legal-specific projects need to be legal experts in specialised areas, as well as being culturally aware.

This can help to avoid mistranslations or errors that are more than just a simple mistake. Legal errors can lead to lawsuits, a loss in a case, a court delay or huge contractual obligations that could cost thousands.

Legal mistranslations have changed the course of history

One of the most notorious mistranslations in history was during WWII, when the United States issued the Potsdam Declaration, demanding the surrender of Japan.

In a statement responding to this ultimatum, the Japanese Prime Minister used the word “mokusatsu”, which translates into English as “ignore” and can be interpreted in Japanese culture as letting a topic die by refusing to follow up on it, or total disattention or indifference to something.

However, in a press conference, “mokusatsu” was mistranslated as “reject”, suggesting to the U.S. government a more firm, negative attitude than that of indifference, which was the desired response. This impacted on the decision to order the atomic bombings in Japan.

What if the translator had made it clear that there were two possible connotations of the same word, or if another translation was passed back to the U.S. government?

Potentially, this single word, “mokusatsu” changed the course of history.

When dealing with different cultures, there isn’t always one exact equivalent of a word in another language, even more so with legal terms, and cultural and linguistic sensitivities need to play a part.

Finding the appropriate legal translation

Moving from literal to legal translations necessitates a dramatically higher threshold of experience, knowledge and skill. When translating legal terms, there is no room for error. You don’t have the latitude or flexibility to employ an “almost-correct” term.

Legal is a sector of its own, as well as something that is integrated into every industry – all of which have their own terminology or dictionary of words.

Knowing the importance of language in the legal sector ensures that you are cautious when adapting words and phrases, to guarantee that no ambiguity remains.

How does legal translation work?

Professional, qualified linguists work on the creative and technical aspects of the documents. Translation is not as simple as putting one language into another; if you carry it over literally then you will lose flow, context and sometimes even sense. What’s important to cover with your Business or Account Manager, is the balance between quality, time and cost and which is most important to your project.

In an age where we’re all tightening budgets, let the experts guide you and help you achieve your objectives and save you costs in the long-term through technology and efficient processes.

Using cheaper translation providers could result in some huge mistranslations and end up costing more in the long run.



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