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French to English Legal Translator Services

Certified English to French translation services and French to English legal translations play an important role in the practice of law. Unless you have studied the art and science of translation or attempted to translate documents yourself, it is tempting to consider translation as straightforward. Some have a tendency to gloss over the inherent difficulties of the process, to ignore a translated text’s original context or to trust any translated document on face value. In the US, particularly for monolingual English speakers, it can be difficult to appreciate the delicacy and nuance that are required to successfully transfer a legal text from one language to another. Indeed, “transfer” is not even the right word, as it fails to convey the layers involved. Multilingual translation is less an act of transfer and more an act of transformation. In this way, it is far from something to be taken for granted.

However, in the legal profession, perhaps more so than in any other field, the quality, veracity and trustworthiness of translation is paramount. Much can rest on legal translation, be it uncovering key facts for a trial, drafting crucial documents for a merger, making important progress on an immigration case, or simply ensuring faithful documentation for a client’s file. As a result, it is essential for attorneys to understand what is at play, and what is at stake, when translation occurs.

Barring some exceptions, every word in the English language has its exact equivalent in French, right? Well, sort of. If you take your French-English dictionary off the shelf and leaf through to “contract”, you’ll find the neat equivalent of “contrat”. If you search for the French word for “legislation”, it will provide the very comprehensible and clearly related “législation” (if you’re wondering, the French word came first). In fact, because so many French words entered the English lexicon with the arrival of the Normans in Britain in the 11th century, a vast swathe of our shared vocabulary relates to law, government and bureaucracy (basically anything ending in “tion”). Yet if you wish to translate the verb “litigate”, your dictionary is more likely to confront you with something along the lines of “intenter une action en justice” (literally, “bring a lawsuit”). It is at moments like these that the literal semantic transfer of words from one language to another begins to fall apart.

French document translators do not simply attack one word after another, in their original order, plodding word by word through a text. For most, this will seem self-evident. But such seemingly-banal observations can actually tell us something profound about translation: the process is not simply about words. It is about conveying meaning. At times this is effected on a microscopic scale (the translator may have to consult the dictionary for an individual word, for example), but the process also operates on a macroscopic level that reworks the text as a whole for its new audience, shifting languages entirely without losing any of the original content, style or structure.

There has been some talk of late about the possibility of digital services like Google Translate being capable of translating entire texts for official purposes. Any bilingual or multilingual speaker who has played around with Google Translate in particular will laugh at the prospect, knowing the translation bot can only work with individual words, or the simplest phrases, before running into serious problems with grammatical structures, vocabulary and tone. Indeed, there’s a whole range of hilarious disasters to be found online in both languages.

Certainly, there are situations in which a bot is sufficient and an imperfect, but swift, translation is helpful; casual Internet surfing or real-time chats with international friends come to mind. But in any situation in which translation could have a potential bearing on a legal case, in any situation in which a translated document will be placed under official scrutiny, translation should be left in the hands of professional translators. Therefore, this important aspect of legal multilingual communication could never be replaced by a robot.

With a rich history and mutual cultural fascination, the relationship between the US and France (as well as other French-speaking countries and regions such as the neighbouring Canadian province of Québec) means there is no shortage of fluent French and English speakers in the US.

Contact All Language Alliance, Inc. where we use certified human translators with highly sophisticated language skills and creative judgement to obtain a certified English to French document translation, or a certified French to English legal translation.

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