As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, legal translation is one of the most sought-after services at translation companies, as it covers a whole host of document types that are key, for example, for companies wanting to move into new markets, for legal procedures involving parties based in different countries or for enforcing laws and regulations on an international scale.

Legal documentation encompasses everything from wills through to court sentences and rulings. All these texts have one thing in common: they’re generally legally binding documents originally written by a legal professional, such as a judge or a lawyer. That said, each document has its own specific terminology, structure, syntax, etc., which is why looking into all of them in a single article would be impossible. What we can do, however, is start by going through them gradually: today we’re going to focus on the translation of contracts.

A number of different types of contracts could be translated; arguably, however, the most common are work contracts, lease contracts or business contracts, such as sales, agency or distribution agreements. In Spain, for example, contracts tend to include an introduction with the date, place and details of the parties involved, followed by their declarations and the clauses or conditions, and finally, the conclusion and the signatures of the parties.

And talking about structure, this is one of the first aspects that translators must consider when approaching a contract. We previously mentioned the features inherent to each legal document; well, the challenge of translation lies in the fact that these features vary according to the country. No question about it, legal translation is one of the branches in which translators must have complete command of the context of the document at hand.

Let’s take an example. If faced with the translation of a contract from English into Spanish, you’ll see how the content isn’t laid out in the same way in both languages, how the headings commonly used in English at the start of the clauses don’t tend to be used in Spanish, or how the source text can reference laws, institutions or documents from the country of origin that don’t have an equivalent or don’t correspond to those in the country for which the translation is intended. What should you do in these instances? This is when specialist translators must tap their resources in order to make the right choice in each instance. This will depend on the type of assignment, the recipient of the translation and its role within the process.

But it doesn’t end there. Contract translation entails many more difficulties: let’s not forget the hard-to-understand legal jargon and technicalities; loanwords, such as Gallicisms, and Latinisms, which very rarely have direct equivalents between languages; and other lexical elements such as doublets and triplets, archaisms or false friends (those terms which, due to their similarity with another English term, appear to have an obvious translation that later turns out to be incorrect). Likewise, if a document is under European or International legislation, the translator must take the terminology used in the original laws into account to avoid ambiguities or inconsistencies between existing texts and the translation.

In English, at a syntactic level, there are grammatical particles with meanings that change according to the context and their position within the clause, and very lengthy noun phrases that give rise to never-ending sentences with scarce verbalisation and punctuation. With regards to these features of legal language, the Plain English Campaign was launched in the United Kingdom at the end of the 70s, which advocates a more comprehensible use of the language in legal documents for the benefit of the general public.

In addition to the list of difficulties that we’ve mentioned, and in light of the fact that they’re legally binding documents through which the parties acquire certain rights and assume obligations, translations must be free from errors and transmit the exact content that appears in the original. To this effect, translators must not only master the specialised language, but also the legal system and current legislation in both countries in relation to the contract they’re translating.

Lastly, certain procedures may require translated texts to be officially certified. In these instances, there are sworn or certified translators in Spain who have been authorised by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation to sign and seal certain documents to verify the accuracy of their translation as compared to the original text. This is sometimes required by administrative bodies in certain countries in order to verify a document’s validity, for example.

As you can see, contract translation requires the painstaking work of an experienced professional translator who is an expert in the legal field. At Tatutrad, we know that a legal translation service has to be flawless, which is why our translation agency based in Seville has a network of legal and certified translators with extensive experience.