Training legal translators

In the new edition of Gabe Bokor’s online Translation Journal, there is an article on using a corpus of both original legal texts and also originals with translations in teaching students. Dr. Esther Monzó Nebot teaches at the Jaume I university in Castellón, Spain.

Dr. Monzó describes legal translations as needing to be overt translations, a term taken from Mary Snell-Hornby.

bq. Sometimes we must tell the reader ‘this is a translation’ so as to avoid making them think the Spanish rules are to be applied to an agreement signed in Great Britain. And this may happen if the agreement looks, sounds and feels like an original Spanish agreement. Such a reading may alter the interpretation of both the document and the intention pursued by the parties to it. In these cases, however, translators have their own strategies in order to mark (Hickey, 1998) the text, i.e. to give clues to the reader so that the reader may understand that the text being read, although written in Spanish, belongs to a different legal system. In this particular case of translation, there are also specific conventions the translator is bound by.

This is a problem often overlooked by legal translators; some of them concentrate on making the text sound natural in the target language and then the reader may have the impression that all the concepts mentioned are identical to those of the target language legal system.

She writes of the need for young translators to see examples of translations. They need not slavishly imitate these, but can compare and decide on their own strategy. This would be useful for practising translators too.

bq. …young and inexperienced translators have to work out on their own how to convey that necessary message to their readers, “How should I translate ‘High Court of Justice’ into Spanish so that my reader knows I am not talking about any Spanish court?” To think about such matters over and over again becomes nonsensical when we think of the number of people the world over who have at some time posed exactly the same questions, but this will be necessary as long as we refuse to show our work to trainees and peers.

It is true that legal translation often seems like reinventing the wheel.

The Spanish, Catalan and English corpus created by Dr. Monzó and Anabel Borjá will eventually be available on the Internet at A couple of screenshots are given in the Translation Journal article.

LATER NOTE: Dr. Monzó would be happy to receive originals and/or translated text, if anyone wants to contribute to the project – texts in Spanish, Catalan, and English. Her email address can be found in the Translation Journal article.

2 thoughts on “Training legal translators

  1. I’m sure she would be happy. The only thing is that my agency and end-clients – who have the copyright in my translations only when my bill’s paid in full – may not be so happy.

  2. To AMMM: I appreciate your point, but I said I’d pass on the message. I suspect the best thing to do is to collect things published on the Web in two languages. On the one hand one wonders what the quality of the translations will be, on the other hand it’s always interesting to see how other people go about things.

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