How to Make Sure Your Legal Translation
Service Is Top Notch

When Translators Just Missed the Mark

Finding skilled, experienced legal translation agency that you can rely on is so essential to your business. Translating legal documents is tough work, and there is no shortage of bad translations in the world. Take for example some of these guffaw-inducing signs translated into English to help tourists that just didn’t quite get it right:

• “Guests are requested NOT to smoke or do other disgusting behaviors in bed.” – Hotel rules in Tokyo.

• “Don’t stand there and be hungry. Come on in and get fed up.” – Restaurant window in Spain.

• “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.” – Cocktail bar in Norway.

• “Please leave your values at the front desk.” – Hotel elevator in Paris.

• “We take your bags and send them in all directions.” – Airline ticket office in Copenhagen.

• “Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. daily.” – Hotel in Athens.

• “Take Notice. When this sign is under water this road is impassable.” – Sign on the Athi River in Kenya.

Sometimes Mistranslations Can Be Comically Costly

Those sidesplitting signs above were just from local stores and restaurants, which is almost understandable given the limited translation resources some small businesses may have. Yet, when a lot of money is on the line, mistranslations of legal documents can be comically costly.

One hilarious example, of course, is the Pepsi campaign launched in China. The tagline in English was “Come alive with Pepsi!” Sadly, or amusingly, the Chinese translation became “Pepsi, bring your ancestors back from the dead!”

Of course, we mustn’t forget the Coors slogan, “Turn it loose,” which became “Suffer from diarrhea” when translated into Spanish. And finally, the American Dairy Association’s “Got Milk” campaign seemed to lose its edge in Mexico, where the slogan was translated into “Are You Lactating?”

The Case of the Contract to Paint a New Bank . . . With Graffiti

No question, bad translations are very funny. At the same time, when a company is spending a great deal of money for something, mistranslations may be no laughing matter, as this construction contract for a bank demonstrates.

Not that long ago, a Danish construction company entered a bid on a contract to construct a large investment bank in Manhattan. The Danish company ultimately won the contract. The Danish contract that the company drafted stipulated, in Danish, that “walls to be painted in a graphite color.” The Danish word used for graphite was “grafit.” The translator, who translated the contract into English, however, interpreted the phrase as “graffiti-painted walls.”

It is pretty funny to think that a conservative New York bank would want its walls painted with graffiti. With legal proceedings becoming a possibility, the first translation service was fired, and a second one was brought in to re-translate the entire agreement. In fact, other significant errors by the first translator were found during the re-translation.

In sum, the parties lost precious time, and more money was spent on document translations than expected. This case is a study in why getting a qualified translator, and giving that translator a reasonable amount of time to translate, is so important.

The issue of mistranslation is not an isolated problem. It occurs frequently and can have very negative effects. For example, the mistranslation of a court judgment in Alfons Lutticke GmbH v. Hauptzollamt led to more than 200,000 lawsuits filed in German courts. In another case, in 2009, a mistranslation created an issue as to whether a Nicaraguan court order awarding $489 million to a class of Nicaraguan banana plantation workers was actually just a mistranslation, or was a deliberate attempt by American plaintiffs’ attorneys to allow enforcement of the judgment in the United States.

Finding Legal Translation Service You Can Trust

All of the folly recounted above leads to a serious point. Translation work is not easy given many pitfalls of translation: languages never exactly have one-to-one matches to one another; similar spellings can lead to vastly different meanings in some languages; words not only have primary meaning, but layers of nuance and ambiguity; figures of speech or trade-specific terms of art can sometimes be extremely difficult to translate.

In sum, some due diligence is required in choosing a qualified legal translation service. Here are some important tips when making that decision:

Fluency over Proficiency. Look for language fluency, not merely proficiency. Proper translations require a translator to understand the correct meaning of a phrase in both the source and target languages.
Dialects. Look for someone who knows dialects as well as the standard language.
Subject Matter Knowledge. Make sure your translator has an in-depth knowledge of not only the nuances of a language, but also the subject matter being translated.
Translation Theory. A good translator is someone who has some education in translation theory. Professional translators know how to use many methods and tools (electronic and otherwise) to handle translation challenges.
Legal Translators for Legal Translations. Simply because a person can speak two languages does not necessarily mean they can handle legal translations. Legal translators understand the detail and language of the law.

If you are looking for a qualified, skilled, experienced multilingual legal translation service, we invite you to learn more about All Language Alliance, Inc. Providing high quality legal and non-legal translations for years, we guarantee a top quality document translation and customer service.

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