The Importance of Competent Legal Translation to International Business Transactions

The Importance of Competent Legal Translation to International Business Transactions

Imagine a million dollar business transaction—not just any transaction, but one in which the two parties involved speak different languages–English and Spanish, for example.  As if that’s not enough of a challenge, add to the task the fact that the two parties are citizens of different countries.  And the legal systems of the two countries (say the United States and Mexico) are radically different.

This scenario occurs every day.  And what’s truly dumbfounding is that, far too often, businesses are willing to spend mega bucks mailing documents back and forth across international borders, but surprisingly hesitant to spend a fraction of that amount to secure a quality legal translation.  With millions at stake, not to mention a host of unforeseen legal complications, many companies are comfortable relying on the translation abilities of a middle manager whose only qualification is that he took a few years of Spanish in college.

Clearly, in the arena of international trade and other international transactions, the need for competent legal translators is great, as is the need to educate international businesses regarding the significance and complexity of legal translation.

A qualified legal translator must command a host of capabilities, but two fundamental skills are foremost:

  1. First, she or he must have a superior understanding of the two relevant languages, not only a comprehensive command of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, but also a thorough familiarity with those language elements which specifically apply to the law.
  2. Second, the adept legal translator must possess a solid grasp of the legal systems of both countries.

Consider the case of the 2011 free trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea.  After the agreement was signed, Song Ki-ho, a Korean lawyer, uncovered a host of translation errors and inconsistencies between the Korean and English versions of the agreement.

Korea Times in an article entitled, EU-Korea free trade pact lost in translation, reported one such glaring discrepancy regarding architect licensing.  The English version included language stating that architects licensed in Europe needed only to pass a simple exam to become licensed in Korea.  The Korean version stated that European architects were required to have a minimum of five years’ experience in addition to passing the exam.  Had Song not uncovered this mistake, it would have become easier for European architects than for those who were Korean citizens to be licensed as architects!

Not all translations are equal.  Legal translations demand a greater precision, an exactitude which is faithful not only to the rules of language, but also the rules of legal systems.  Knowledge of the law is in fact the very linchpin of competent legal translation.

When it comes to important business transactions, don’t risk losing money because an unqualified translator used the wrong words.  When words count, find a legal translator you can trust.  For more information, visit our website today.

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About Ana

Ana L. Velilla-Arce is an attorney licensed in Puerto Rico (U.S. territory) who has a Master’s degree in Translation Studies, obtaining her English to Spanish certification from the American Translators Association (ATA).

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