Tag Archives: translation

How NOT to translate legal texts

As a translation agency, we accept requests for translation of legal documents on a daily basis and deal with text such as contracts, litigations, legislations, wills, various types of certificates, and many more.

Legal translation is a field most sensitive to error, the consequences of which may be far-reaching and in certain cases disastrous. Therefore, such texts must be approached with caution and commissioned to linguists with suitable background knowledge.

There are certain aspects of the legal translation process that pose a risk of error and below we discuss ways to avoid them and their consequential damage.

  • Literal translation of legal jargon specific to every language and developed over the centuries may result in serious deviations from the intention of the source Idiomatic phrases particular to legalese should first have their meaning established and be translated accordingly. The following are examples of phrases that would hardly ever benefit from literal translation into any language:

 in my custody (‘under my supervision’)

 witness my hand (‘in my presence’)

  • Synonymous words with minute differences in meaning used interchangeably, or opposite terms confused in often complex legal discourse, may cause ambiguity and disrupt further legal proceedings.

If there is an appeal, the appellant, logically, will be the party who has lost in the first instance, while the winner will be respondent. However, since either the plaintiff or defendant can win or lose at first instance, the translator should be careful not to confuse identities of appellant and respondent, even though their roles appear to be reversed.

In law, injury may relate to people’s body, but surprisingly, rights can suffer injury too. The physical sense may be distinguished from the moral by adding the adjective personal or bodily.

Harm and damage are close synonyms. Both are uncountable and examples of use are as follows: ‘His rights suffered damage’. ‘Her goods suffered damage’. Damages in plural, however, has an entirely different meaning, synonymous to ‘compensation’.

  • Translators must beware miscomprehension or misalignment of the relationships between words and phrases in lengthy, complex sentences and intricate syntax, so characteristic to legal discourse, such as the following passage:

The Licensor acknowledges and agrees that the Licensor may, at any time, be privy to confidential information including but not limited to (a) the production, development and/or exploitation of the Programme and/or any ancillary matters; (b) the general and/or business affairs of the Group; (c) participants and/or contributors to the Programme; and/or (d) this Agreement, and the Licensor agrees that the Licensor will not, by any means whatsoever, communicate or divulge to any person (including a company) or make use of or permit any other person to make use of any confidential information, (save for by its professional advisers or as ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction) by any means at any time.

Even if reordering of phrases or of parts of sentences is required to maintain different stylistic conventions of the target language, one must ensure the relation between particular items is retained in the translation, for a single slip can redirect liability or at least result in confusion and deem a legal document void.

  • Certain source language expressions may not have precise equivalents in the target language, as in the case of the terms tipper and tippee in the following example:

Insiders (‘tipper’) may be liable for communicating or tipping material, non-public information to a third party (‘tippee’).

In many languages, direct equivalents of the terms with acceptable usage in a similar context will not exist and an attempt to coin a corresponding term might result in an awkward word, inappropriate in the high register of a legal language. Therefore, these terms would need to be paraphrased as, for instance, ‘person disclosing confidential information’ and ‘person receiving confidential information’ respectively.

  • Difficulties may arise due to differences in legal systems in the countries of the source and the target languages. These can be explained by means of translator’s note.
  • Missing Notary Public certification, which is required for certain purposes. The translation will not serve its function if not accompanied by a separate notarial document with original signature.

The above are several of the most common pitfalls we come across while translating legal documents. It is of utmost importance that legal translators are familiar with and approach with sensitivity both source and target legal jargons, which are often characterized by dissimilar usages in terminology and various styles of writing, necessitating appropriate adjustments by the translator. The ability to see through the source text and to aptly interpret its wording and possible ambiguities is another desired quality of a linguist undertaking a legal translation, the absence of which may give rise to altered information and consequently different from the intended function of the text produced.

Celebrating 20 Years in Business

20th anniversary clouds

It’s celebration time! Linguamax has been in business for 20 years this month! Thanks to our great Clients, Colleagues, Linguists and Friends, we are celebrating this milestone anniversary. We have built many great relationships along the way and we are looking forward to strengthening them even further. Thank you all for contributing to our success! It has been a real pleasure working with you!

With a vision of offering the highest value to our clients, we set out in 1995 with determination to build a business known for providing highly personalised client-oriented services, exceptional quality and fast response times with a commitment to follow these principles consistently at all times. Since our humble beginnings we have built up a loyal following of clients who value the personal service our project managers bring to every job, as well as the ability of our translators to solve even the trickiest language-related challenges.

Linguamax attributes the company’s success to a number of things but there is one, which stands alone as the cornerstone. Our passion is unrelenting and we always strive to be better at what we do every year even after two decades. We aim to offer services that fully meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. We simply enjoy what we do!

It is with enormous pride that we celebrate 20 years of business and thank everyone who has been involved in helping Linguamax become the business it is. We look towards the coming years in a positive way and with determination to deliver on the promises the business was founded on.

Outside my hotel with the bell boys

China – First Impressions

I have recently had the privilege to visit a country that is most famous for its ancient history, the only man-made structure visible from outer space and its huge population, which − even after 35 years of strictly controlled one-child policy − exceeds 1.35 billion.

I was invited by Nationalities University in Dalian in the North-East of China to deliver lectures on business and leadership to its students of International Trade in May this year. On my way there, I decided to spend four days in Beijing, as it would have been a shame to pass through this ancient city without visiting some of its famous sights.

Beijing road

Beijing road

I had been warned to expect large buildings and great distances in the ‘Northern Capital’, but I could hardly believe my eyes when, having taken the ‘Sky Train’ from the airport to the city centre, I stepped out of the railway station in search of a taxi to the hotel. The road in front of me was the size of a large European motorway with five lanes on each side and a barrier in the middle acting as central reservation. I was hoping to hail a taxi from the pavement, but there was also a metal barrier separating pedestrians and cyclists from the road and I could not see an opening in it anywhere. I even ventured down into the subway hoping to be able to cross underground to the other side of the vast avenue but only ended up back at the metro station that I had come from.

Seeing my despair (and it is not easy for a European visitor with a large suitcase to blend into the local crowd), an octogenarian rickshaw driver in slippers approached me and asked if I wanted a lift. When I showed him the address of the hotel, which I had very smartly printed out in Mandarin before I left home, he shook his head and waved me to a taxi that had miraculously appeared between the pavement and the roadside barrier. I couldn’t have been more grateful! I didn’t even mind the fare he was going to charge me which, for a relatively short journey, turned out to be twice the cost of an airport transfer.

It was just as well that I hadn’t contemplated making my way to the hotel by public transport, as there was no way I could have carried my heavy suitcase up and down the numerous stairs that seem to be inherent to any underground journey in Beijing. Public transport in China seems to have been designed solely for able-bodied athletes. If you wonder why most Chinese are so slim and fit, this is one reason: in order to get from A to B without a chauffeur-driven car or a taxi you have to walk for miles and climb hundreds of stairs every time.

I was relieved to eventually arrive at my lovely hotel and to be greeted by English-speaking staff and a comfortable bed to sleep off some of my jet lag. In the evening, refreshed, I ventured out for a walk to discover my immediate surroundings. I was pleasantly surprised that, despite the hotel being near Beijing Railway Station, the area was far from dodgy or run down. In fact, it was very modern with tall office buildings and shopping malls, and also very clean and free from any rough sleepers or beggars you would normally expect in such a location in most other countries. The roads, however, were still vast.

On my first evening stroll, I decided to walk across the zebra crossing in front of the station, the memory of which still sends shivers down my spine. I obviously waited for the lights to turn green for pedestrians before starting my long walk across the ten lanes that this particular road consisted of, luckily in the company of some brave and experienced locals. However, once on the crossing, I was astonished to see cars turning from both left and right onto the zebra crossing and expecting the pedestrians to somehow vanish from their paths. I didn’t know which way to look and whether to keep walking or to start sprinting, so I simply decided to stick with the small group of determined locals and kept walking while trying to ignore the cyclists and rickshaw drivers who, at that point, also joined in the commotion. In a situation like this, having only two eyes is simply not enough! Since I’m only blessed with the usual one pair, and this was not an experience I wanted to repeat any time soon, on subsequent trips out, I insisted on using the subway nearby to get from one side of the road to the other. Where this wasn’t an option, i.e. on smaller roads only consisting of four lanes, I would check both ways, check again and then run for it, hoping no local driver would want to get involved with foreign insurance firms over injuring a European visitor.

On this first outing of mine, I decided to pop into the local supermarket. The layout of the shop was very similar to that of many supermarket chains in Europe where you can find everything from clothes and household appliances to fresh fruit, meat and fish under the same roof. It didn’t surprise me too much that approximately 70% of all the food on sale was unrecognisable to me either due to its appearance or its Mandarin labelling, or both.

I wasn’t on a mission to try some exotic Chinese delicacies on my first evening, though; I was actually hoping to find some bread. I know that in Oriental countries bread isn’t part of the essential diet like it is in Europe, but I thought a large supermarket in the centre of Beijing would surely cater for more unusual tastes. Having spent about half an hour looking at various shelves and walking up and down numerous isles, I decided to ask someone for help. I thought I was very well prepared for this adventure as I had downloaded a couple of Chinese translator apps to my phone at home and this was the time to put my new gadget to the test. I quickly discovered, however, that both my apps were completely useless without Wi-Fi and I wasn’t desperate enough to use mobile internet 5,000 miles away from home at rates of about 1 ounce of gold per megabyte, so I resorted to approaching young, professional looking women (assuming that they might speak some basic English) with my ‘Do you speak English?’ pronounced as slowly and clearly as humanly possible. The reactions to this ranged from sheer panic followed by a swift move away from the stranger to giggles or simply saying ‘no way’ in Mandarin.

Working for a translation agency and having great passion for foreign languages, I do appreciate the importance of speaking the local language when visiting other countries. I also normally try to learn a few local phrases before travelling somewhere new, but in this case I felt completely unprepared: I could not communicate with a single person in that shop. The fact that I did eventually find something that looked like sliced bread but tasted more like brioche (an added bonus?) was not thanks to my verbal abilities but rather to my determination of not leaving the supermarket empty handed.

If lessons are to be learned from our experiences in life, then my first evening in Beijing taught me to avoid road traffic in Chinese cities at all costs and it made me realise that one must not assume that English is the international language of our globalized world. China is very happy with its own language and culture and is in no hurry to give it up or adjust it to our convenience.

Written by: Erika Arvai

Hotel in Beijing

Outside my hotel with the bell boys

A Day in the life of a Project Manager

The great thing about working as a Project Manager for a small translation agency is that one never knows at the start of the day quite what challenges the day will bring! So much of our work relates to analysing the client’s varied and specific requirements for each particular task and selecting the most appropriate person to meet those requirements.

As I open the morning batch of e-mails, in pops a message from a regular client, a legal firm dealing with transport claims. The attached pdf file reveals the rough handwriting of a Russian lorry driver’s report. A quick phone call to our favoured Russian translator who is best able to deal with semi-legible scrawls, rouses him from his bed (he’s a man of nocturnal habits!) and after examining the text he asks if an improved source text can be obtained, as some words cannot be made out at all! After we’ve done a little work on enhancing the contrast, he promises to give it his best attention for delivery the following day. This eye-witness account may prove crucial to the case, and we know our translator will give an accurate rendering of the driver’s words. We are lucky this time that the reports are not in Kazakh or Tajik, which also use the Cyrillic alphabet, and so are not easily distinguished by the uninitiated!

The phone rings. A young woman needs a certified translation of her German birth certificate. The source document and the certified translation need to be presented to the American Embassy in London in just two days’ time. We arrange for the document to be translated, certified, and sent by Special Delivery in order to reach her in time.

In the meantime, a 6000 word financial report has been delivered by our Danish translator. This is part of a batch of jobs for translation into several languages, due back to the client by the end of the day. It will need careful checking to ensure that all facts and figures match the source text. We will go through it systematically, line by line, checking each figure, as well as doing a spelling and grammar check. We are expecting the Portuguese, French, German and Norwegian texts to come in during the course of the day, and each will be checked with the same meticulous attention to detail. If independent proofreading is required, we will liaise between the proof reader and the original translator over differing forms of words, but ultimately the original translator will have the final say on the wording which is adopted.

Another regular client contacts us with some updates to a product manual. The new text needs to be translated into 5 languages, Russian, Polish, Czech, Greek and Turkish, and it is best if it is done by translators who have worked on the text before. In fact they need to be users of Trados and have the relevant Translation Memory to match the new text to the old. Translators are contacted, deadlines established and Purchase Orders raised in double-quick time, so that within an hour we are able to report to the client that the project is underway.

An English translation of a Polish medical report is needed as part of a job application. It includes both numerous medical abbreviations and some semi-legible handwritten text. We have a strong pool of reliable Polish medical translators to call upon, but because they are often very busy, we may have to contact several people before finding someone who is available. After several e-mails and phone calls, a satisfactory deadline is achieved for the client.

Each of our translators has their own special strengths. An English translation of a Portuguese text comes in from one of our oldest translators. He is a real wordsmith, the master of the apposite phrase. He produces reliable and trusted translations of complex legal texts. Unfortunately his eyesight sometimes fails him when faced by arrays of figures, so we prefer to use him for continuous text, giving jobs which are dominated by figures to a younger translator with good formatting skills.

It’s 2.30 pm, and a client in Canada has started work for the day. He wants a Chinese translation of a medical text proofread for start of business tomorrow. The job will involve some four hours’ work. Working across different time-zones creates particular problems.  It’s a conundrum: most Chinese native speakers are based in China, where it is already 10 pm! We try our UK-based contacts, but they are all very busy and would need more time. As the clock ticks by, tension mounts. Can we find an appropriately qualified and available translator in the time we have? Fortunately one of our contacts in China is working late and picks up our message. With a medical degree and extensive medical translation experience he is ideal for the job. Grace works overtime to get the project in place.

A request for interpreters for a multilingual conference requires careful negotiation on times, prices and general requirements. Will interpreting be consecutive or ad hoc? Is there likely to be any equipment available? Additionally, access to the venue and travel arrangements need to be established. A full day’s session may require more than one interpreter per language to allow for breaks and ensure efficiency. To confirm the bookings, signed terms of agreement need to be acquired from each interpreter.

Out of the blue, and coming up to closing time, a request for a Mongolian translator comes in. This is not a language for which we experience frequent demand, but we willingly turn our minds to the task of finding a UK-based Mongolian speaker. Whilst it is generally preferable that translators should work into their own mother tongue, the difficulty with less common languages is that they are seldom studied by English native speakers, so translators are likely to be non-native speakers. Extra special attention has then to be paid to the quality of the English translation, and if necessary individual phrases are double-checked to ensure accuracy.

Before we shut down the computer for the evening, we make sure all outstanding projects have been safely delivered, any queries from the clients have been answered, and all Purchase Orders have been sent out to translators for the next round of jobs. What will tomorrow bring?

Written by: Sarah Wright

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“How do I look?” – The perils of poor translation

Some years ago we had a giggle at a restaurant in St Malo which was proudly listing “tepid fowl gizzards salad” as a star attraction. This was before the days of “Google Translate”, but highlighted the inherent dangers of word-for-word translation. A “Salade tièdede gésiers de volaille” may appeal to the French palate, but the English version, although technically accurate, conveys a most unpleasant image – quite foul, in fact!

We have all had a laugh at similar gaffes in restaurants and hotels abroad, and no doubt overseas visitors to Britain come across mistakes which they think are equally funny, if they can find anything which has been translated into their language! At the local level, though, the stakes are not high (or should that be “the steaks are not high”?), with errors causing amusement rather than serious financial consequences. In a global business context, however, bad translation can prove both embarrassing and expensive.

The “global village” is now a reality, and the burgeoning use of the internet means that suppliers and customers include not only the larger multi-nationals but also smaller companies and individuals. With a substantial amount of new custom coming from on-line searches, it is fairly standard for larger companies to offer websites in at least two languages, one of which is English. Small and medium-sized businesses may be looking to expand their activities abroad, but companies are sometimes tempted to cut costs on infrastructural elements such as website design or translation. Yet poor presentation and inadequate translation of websites and promotional material can actually do more harm than good, by projecting an image of incompetence and lack of professionalism. In business, confidence is a key issue, and prospective customers need to feel reassured that they will be able to work on the basis of mutual understanding.

So, what sort of first impression are you making? A random scan of company web-sites reveals a range of levels of sophistication in translation into English. Where an automated translation system has been used it is usually immediately obvious. Sentences do not flow, word order is odd, the wrong verb tenses appear, prepositions are used incorrectly and terminology is misleading. Similar errors occur when a translation has been done by a non-native speaker of the target language.  Sometimes a hastily added and poorly translated section may let down an otherwise good presentation.

Awareness of the most common pitfalls and a thorough proofreading of the text before it goes live on the website can help to ensure that the damage is limited.

Has the text been fully translated?

Even the most cursory check will detect when headings or descriptions have been left in a mixture of languages, yet this is quite common on internet web pages, probably because an automated system has been unable to translate particular words or phrases!

The company produces verschleissfeste shaped parts and coatings.

Are there obvious spelling mistakes?

Final copy for the website or brochure may be produced by a typist unfamiliar with the language of the translation. A simple spell-checking exercise in the target language will help to weed out obvious typos and spelling mistakes.

The new bright offices represent the group and give us oportunities to extend. 

Our highly spezialized team will work out with pleasure the perfect solution for your application

We are a new player in a new market, so only a few specalists in the market know us so far.

However, an automated spell checker will not pick up on words which are in the dictionary but are not appropriate in the context:

XGmbH is a medium-sized company: costumer focused, flexible, fast and reliable. 

producing high precision products to the national and international marker

specialized in the micro perforation of pre-coated stealing and aluminium strips.

Check your grammar!

Sentence structure and word order

Sometimes the right words may be used, but in an order which appears clumsy in English:

An important role plays here also the selection of reliable sources and manufacturers of the raw materials.

Are the tenses of the verbs correct in English?

Many websites exhibit straight translation of grammatical structures which may be correct in German, French or Spanish but not in English. A very common example is the use of a Present Tense with “since” where the Present Perfect or Present Perfect Continuous is required in English, with “for”:

Since more than twenty years M S GmbH exports all kinds of declassified steel products

Correct version: For more than twenty years M S GmbH has been exporting….

When a translation has not been provided by a native speaker, it is easy for incorrect forms of verbs to be introduced:

All drug rights are transmissed to this company.

Make sure prepositions are used correctly

Prepositions are fiddly little words which are difficult to get right in translation, and often reflect a different usage in the source language. A widespread common mistake in translation from German is “Welcome at…” rather than “to”:

Welcome at F L GmbH! We appreciate your visit on our website

(“to” is required in both cases)

Our harbour facility enjoys an excellent reputation at ship-owners and our customers

(“with” is needed here)

Is the right vocabulary being used?

Sometimes terms used can be odd but more or less understood:

antibiotics both for small and hobby animals and utilizable animals.

In other instances the wrong vocabulary can be totally baffling.

It is a product specially developed to grief over all bilayer systems

 

Check for hidden meanings

Businesses marketing abroad need to be aware of the slang implications of brand names, logos, slogans and catch-phrases – more than a few high profile publicity campaigns have been brought down by products being inappropriately named in the target language. An IKEA workbench called FARTFULL raised a few laughs but was not a great commercial success. Sometimes such shades of meaning are unavoidable – perfectly innocent words can have “rude” or negative overtones in other contexts – but it is as well to be aware before others have fun at the company’s expense! Marketing a car in Spain with the name NOVA (“it doesn’t go”) may not be the best strategy!

Beware of “False friends”

“We always pretend to provide you the best quality in all materials”

Sometimes a word which seems the same in another language and which may share a common origin can have evolved to mean something very different. This slogan in English on a Spanish company website actually conveys the opposite message to the one intended, due to the straight conversion of the Spanish verb “pretender”, meaning “aim” or “try”. In English the word “pretend” has subtly altered in meaning over the years and suggests here that the company is passing off shoddy goods as quality!

By the same token, in Spanish:

Un abogado is not an avocado, but a lawyer

En absoluto means absolutely NOT

Un compromiso is a commitment, not a compromise!

Una carpeta is a file, not a carpet

Raro means strange in Spain, although it can mean rare in South America

Actual means current

Corriente means common

Asistir a means to attend (a class or function)

Atender means to help or assist

Recordar means to remember/remind, not record

Un preservativo is a contraceptive

embarazada  means pregnant, not necessarily embarrassed!

molestar means to bother, not to molest!.

The possibilities for misunderstanding are endless!

In the worst examples, web pages combine faulty grammar, spelling errors and un-translated words, to produce something which no one will bother to read. Employing a professional translator to do the job can not only save a great deal of embarrassment, but also makes economic sense by ensuring that the message reaches the target audience, is properly understood, inspires confidence and enhances the image of the company. Make sure you look good!

Written by: Sarah Wright

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Linguamax Featured in HSBC Business Matters

We were really pleased to be featured by HSBC in their March edition of Business Matters. It focuses on our work with freelance translators. You can read part of the story below – the full article is available here:

How my business works with freelances
Grace Azadvar – director of Sidcup-based Linguamax Ltd

Grace Azadvar“My business probably works with up to 200 freelances a year, of whom half would be regulars. It’s a cost-effective solution, one that is perfectly suited to the varied nature of the work my business does.

We offer translation services in more than 70 languages – ranging from Albanian to Zulu. Translation and interpreting from English to Polish, Czech, Romanian, Russian, French, German and Spanish are particular specialities of ours.

We draw upon our vast database of linguists, which we’ve built up since the business was formed in 1995. We also get sent CVs – probably every day – from people offering their services. Sometimes we find new people online or go on personal recommendations we receive.

Quality and accuracy is extremely important when it comes to translation, so we begin by checking someone’s ability by testing them on a short document. If the quality of their work is high enough, their name goes onto our database….carry on reading the article here.