What is Legal Translation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2020
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Legal translation is a field involving the preparation of translated legal texts and testimony for the benefit of people who cannot communicate in the original language. It includes everything from translating death certificates to assisting with comprehension of testimony in court. People working in this area of the legal profession need a number of skills as they must be proficient in two or more languages as well as legal systems. Mistakes in legal translation can be very costly, and a nation may have standards people need to meet before they can offer their services as legal translators.

Language translation goes beyond offering a verbatim translation of communications. People must also think about the culture behind the original document or testimony, and make sure that this translates as well. Legal terminology can be extremely complex and shaded with multiple meanings, making it important to read documents over thoroughly before translating them. A seemingly simple term may not translate very well, depending on the languages and cultures the translator is working in.


A specialist in legal translation starts by reviewing the material in need of translation, taking notes along the way. She may need to consult legal dictionaries and other texts. Then, she can start on the preparation of the translation, thinking about the legal as well as literal meaning of the text to arrive at the best possible translation. With something like a will, for example, people need to think about the standard systems of inheritance used in a legal system to make sure they accurately convey the content of the will in the translation.

In court, legal translation requires being able to work quickly, because the translator needs to be able to translate questions and responses in a timely fashion. The court will record the original language as well as the translation, and if there are disputes in the future, other translators can review the court record to determine if the translation was accurate. The translator must convey information to all parties as accurately and clearly as possible, avoiding any interpretation or spin on what anyone says while still ensuring that everyone understands what is being said.

People with an interest in legal translation will need to complete language education and receive certification as translators. Training specifically for legal translators is available, and people can also study law on their own. Prospective translators may want to contact working translators, courts, and law firms to find out more about the requirements for people working in this field so they can adequately prepare before seeking work.


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Post 1

Legal translation is the translation of legal documents. Only professional translators specialising in legal translation should translate legal documents and scholarly writings.

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