Legal Translator: The translation, The Whole Translation and Nothing But…

legal translator

Legal Translator and Challenges

Technical language in a foreign language is always a big challenge, particularly for a legal translator. With the increasing collaboration between countries in the commercial and economic spheres, the exchange of information flows very quickly.

Having good Dictionaries and Reference Material is Essential

Imagine a French doctor who has the opportunity to take a specialization course in an English-speaking country. Studying the technical terms in English is of paramount importance and a great challenge. This professional will have to study how to say “head”, “surgery”, “scalpel” and other expressions in English. Having good dictionaries and reference material is essential. Once the doctor learns these and other key terms in the English language, he is prepared to take classes in a foreign country.

A Legal Translator Challenge: No Equivalence between Legal Terms in French and English

Let us now look at the example of a lawyer who has the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in law (known as LLM) in the United States. Like the doctor in the paragraph above, he will have to study the technical language in English, in this case, the technical-legal language.

In addition to all the challenges faced by the physician in the search for the acquisition of technical language, the lawyer will face yet another obstacle: the fact that, in the vast majority of times, there is no absolute equivalence between the legal terms in French and English. One of the classic examples given in this situation is the translation, into English, of the term “Dépayser”. While French people describe it as the sensation of being out of place in a foreign country, for a legal translator, it describes the dismissal of a case to be tried in another court.

The Legal Translator must know the Structure of Foreign Law – at least

The legal translator, however, will never be able to meddle in shedding the concept he needs to use in order to express himself correctly.

An essential instrument is the use of comparative law to approximate concepts between legal systems in different countries, that is, with prior knowledge, in this specific case, of the French legal system, the legal translator must dedicate himself to know, at least, the structure of foreign law, only then to start the process of shifting concepts from one language to another.

Comparative Law = know a Term in each Legal System and Distinguish the Common Elements

According to Soares “[…] ‘Comparative Law’ has a reality in the universe of law science, since it will always be possible to carry out a comparison of legal systems in different countries, with scientific methodology, to establish common and differentiated principles, including even a general theory of legal comparativism (in the manner of a universal grammar of all existing languages).

In Comparative Law, the aim is to make a comparison and once this is done, go on to a double task: a) know each term, in isolation, in its individuality and specificity, in each face-to-face system and b) of the approximation of both, distinguish the elements that exist in common and, from the discovery of common values, carry out the comparison.

Comparative Law should provide value judgements of the type ‘are equivalent’, ‘produce similar effects, given the same circumstances’, ‘are comparable, provided that such or which factual elements are disregarded’, judgements that should lead to a final decision that, deep down, it would lie in ‘recognizing an unknown institute’ in its effects, in a certain legal system.”

Dictionaries for the Legal Translator

An emphatic suggestion is the use of legal dictionaries recognized in the market. One of the most respected French – English dictionaries on the market is the Dictionnaire juridique Dahl français-anglais; Dahl’s law dictionary french-english.

A question that many translators ask me is the following: “Is it essential to have a law degree to be a good law translator?”

My answer is: it is not essential to be trained in law to be a good legal translator, however, it is essential, yes, to have basic knowledge of comparative law. Besides, this task is really fun!