Being a legal translator is hard work. Translating a document per se is already challenging. But the process of translating specific subject areas, such a legal translation, poses a higher level of translation work.
In this field, a subject matter expert, a legal translator, is needed, aside from someone proficient in the source and target languages. And legal translation reaches a higher peak when you talk about international law.
In Latin America, for example, a legal translator not only faces a variety of languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, and Brazilian Portuguese, but also other local dialects, such as Mayan, Garifuna, Creole, Aymara, Quechua, French, and a variety of American Indian languages. Aside from the languages, the cultural, business and political practices are very different.
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Different Legal System
The prevailing legal system in Latin America is Civil Law, which is also followed in Louisiana and Puerto Rico. The rest of the United States follows the Common Law tradition. Civil law was inspired by the Roman law, while common law derived inspiration from English common law tradition.
What Does This Mean for a Legal Translator?
With Latin American nations opening their doors to more trade, particularly in the Asian region, a legal translator has to deal with more languages and different requirements of international law. But this is more beneficial to the translation industry because the demand for accurate and high quality translation increases.
Requirements for a legal translator also come with a healthy mix of documents: contracts, litigation, labor, immigration and patents. International law firms in Latin America, businesses engaged in import and export, individuals and many other types of businesses will need a legal translator, within Latin America and for those countries and firms that deal with them.
Common Issues in Legal Translation
What makes being a legal translator in Latin America more difficult is the compliance with the rules of the foreign languages and the rules of a different legal system. The legal language will also be different. The legal translator must have a high degree of flexibility, explanation and creativity to achieve an equivalent meaning in unfamiliar text and terminology.
Full understanding of legal terminology in the source and target languages is necessary. In English, most of them are not translated and written in italics. However, in the Romance languages, Latin terminology must be translated. This can make things more difficult for the legal translator.
This is more evident in court documents, where translators often have difficulty translating testimony due to regional dialect and linguistic differences, where street slang is also common. In criminal cases, it is critical for the legal translator to know all the regional Spanish slang used in Latin America.
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General Tips for Legal Translators
It’s understood that legal translation is already difficult as it is. Translating documents in Latin American languages and a different legal system makes legal translation in Latin America doubly harder. To fully prepare for the challenges ahead, here are some of the things a legal translator can do:
- Remember that there are multiple types of Spanish. The differences, aside from the pronunciation, are shown in formalities, grammar, names of everyday objects, clothing, and food. Identify the specific type of Spanish spoken in the target area and translate the document in that style of Spanish.
- Spanish is the main language in the region, but indigenous languages are spoken in almost every country; from guaraní in Paraguay to mayan dialects in Guatemala, and there are regiones were english, french and criolle are spoken. Even if the official documents are only in spanish, take note of the cultural differences with another languages and cultures in the region.
- Remember that Spanish has longer words. Spanish translations are generally longer than English by about 30 percent.
- Most of the cultural nuances of Spanish are unique to the language. See to it that you adhere to the formalities and signs of respect used in the target region.
- Spanish and English have completely different styles of grammar. English has a more lenient syntax, nouns are assigned genders, and each verb tense has six different spellings. In Spanish, adjectives come after the noun. They also change by the number and gender of the noun.
- Ensure that the format is correct particularly with dates, addresses, prices and numbers. It is customary to write the numbers verbally if it is written in the same way in the original text, for example two hundred and twenty-one, instead of 221. Likewise, 10.1 in English is written as 10,1 in Spanish and French.
- Make sure that the names of parties do not change. For example, if Landlord and Tenant are used in the original document, maintain these names throughout the document. Do not change it to Lessor and Lessee in some parts.
- Pay close attention to the grammar as you cannot be ambiguous in legal translation. Legal text is very different from everyday speech and literary text. The grammatical structure is different. Legal text makes use of many conditionals, conjunctives and subjunctives function words.
Legal translation in Latin America poses a great challenge. It is crucial that the legal translator is highly knowledgeable in the languages spoken in the region, the prevailing legal system and the subtleties of the region’s cultural practices and the dialectical differences.
Know more about language services in the legal industry in our free guide on the matter.