Legal translation is hardly child’s play, but child’s play may be the best way to illustrate just how tricky legal translation can be. Let’s use leapfrog as an example. If you’re reading this in the U.S., chances are the term conjures up visions of children vaulting over each other’s stooped backs. The game isn’t just popular among American children. French and German children play it too. French kids know it as sauté-mouton (sheep jump) while German kids call it Bockspringen.
But leapfrog doesn’t necessarily refer to a game: in England it is a type of legal appeal that goes straight from the High Court to the House of Lords, bypassing the Court of Appeal due to sufficient public importance. When translating this British legal term into German, the correct translation is Sprungrevision. However, if a translator isn’t knowledgeable about these two legal systems, the translation would likely be Bockspringen, which is very wrong.
The leapfrog example shows us why legal translations are considered some of the most difficult. Accurate legal translations require knowledge of the legal nuances in various countries, not just word-for-word translation.
The system-bound nature of legal text requires more than a language match from your translator. When selecting a translation service to provide international legal support, look for competencies in three specific areas: 1. knowledge of the legal systems of the source and target languages; 2. familiarity with the relevant legal terminology; and 3. competency in the target language's legal writing style.
The process of translating simple language is hard enough, but when translating specialized terms with cultural and legal intricacies, the quality bar is raised even higher for translation service providers. In order to be effective in this demanding line of work, your translator must have the right set of skills and relevant academic background as there is no room for mistakes in legal documents.
Keep in mind that while it is possible to find direct translations for technical terms, leapfrog translates to deer-jumping in German.