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Why Translation of Foreign
Language Contracts Matters

Professional Contract Translation Services

Foreign language contract translation services play an important role in international business and law.  The internet has made international commerce easier. No longer does a company have to be large and powerful to have an international presence. But the comparative ease of doing international business is accompanied by legal requirements that many companies may never have encountered before. Suppose you hire someone in another country to do contract work for you, or suppose there is a dispute over something you sell in another country. Legal cases involving contracts are inherently complicated, and when parties to a legal issue speak different languages, they’re even more complex.

Boilerplate Language Designating English as the “Official Language” Is Insufficient

Some business owners may believe that adding basic boilerplate contract language declaring English as the official language of the contract is sufficient for making a contract legal and enforceable in other countries, but that is not so. Any contract that doesn’t comply with jurisdictional requirements in other countries can be ruled invalid and unenforceable. Many countries require that all contracts be made in the local language, even if both parties to the contract speak English, and in these cases, a professional translation is required.

Any company doing business in non-English speaking countries must understand the rules of contracts in those countries, or else they could end up with contracts that are unenforceable. Professional legal translators with subject-specific knowledge of law, science, engineering, insurance or other topics relevant to the contract are necessary to ensure that contracts are accurate and meet legal requirements in those countries so that they will be valid and enforceable.

Enforcing Judgments Made in One Country in Other Countries

When a legal judgment is rendered in one country, it may not be enforceable in another country. If a contract made in, say, the United States, is to be enforceable in a non-English speaking country, it must include an accurate translation. Additionally, while an accurate translation by a professional translator is necessary for a contract to be enforceable abroad, it isn’t sufficient. It’s important for those creating an international contract to consider where a dispute is most likely to be raised. If it’s more likely that a dispute will be raised in another country, where another language is spoken, then it makes more sense for that country’s language to be the official language of the contract, with English versions of the contract made for reference.

When Disputes Are More Likely to Arise in Foreign Countries

Many US companies are learning to navigate the legal environment surrounding contracts with manufacturers in China. For a contract to be enforceable in China, it must be litigated through the Chinese court system, under Chinese law, and the governing language must be Chinese. Non-Chinese speaking US clients who have contracts with Chinese suppliers may be uncomfortable having contracts in a language they do not understand, but it’s required by China, and an English translation of the contract can be created for reference purposes. Different nations have different rules about what evidence is admissible in court, and this too often requires that documents be translated professionally.

Foreign Language Documents in US Federal Court

Another consequence of increased international business is the use of foreign language translations in cases litigated in the US. All foreign language documents submitted into federal court must be translated into English by a qualified expert. The 2004 case Stevens v. Tamai, in United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, had to do with translation of Japanese documents in a patent dispute. Shigeru Tamai contended that he satisfied requirements for translations of documents that would have given him an earlier US filing date for a patent application than Christopher Stevens. The court eventually determined that the documents Tamai provided were not sufficient to establish the earlier filing date, and Mr. Stevens prevailed.

Foreign Language Documents in State Courts

On the state level, some states have specialized rules regarding translations, and some do not. States that do not have these rules may refer to Texas Rule of Evidence 1009, which outlines how foreign language translations are admitted as documentary evidence, and how they can be objected to. California Evidence Code section 753 is another provision state courts sometimes refer to in these situations. Generally, a translation of a foreign language document is admissible when accompanied by a sworn affidavit from a qualified foreign language translator stating the translator’s qualifications and containing a sworn statement that the translation is fair and accurate.

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