Only Trust Legal Translations to Professional Linguists
As community interpreters, court interpreters have their own expertise. However, because interpreting and translating are two entirely different skill sets, you should only trust legal translations to professional linguists who have familiarity with the legal field, like certified or registered court interpreters. Trusting legal document translation to linguists without the appropriate level of experience and industry knowledge, lawyers, paralegals, and expert legal teams can find themselves in embarrassing or debilitating situations when the translations they’ve relied on to build their case are inaccurate.
Let’s start with the basics.
Know the difference between an interpreter and a translator
Let’s spend a minute reviewing the difference between translators and interpreters:
- Translators: These professional linguists convert the written form of one language into the written form of another. Translators only handle written text, except for transcription and subtitling services, for which they access A/V files.
- Interpreters: Interpreters convert spoken words into verbal equivalents in one of two forms. Conference (simultaneous) interpreting happens in real-time, using headsets and microphones (like you see on TV when watching UN summits), or they use a more back-and-forth, conversational mode called consecutive interpreting. This is the type used most often for smaller, more intimate settings.
In the professional world of language services, these are two very different niches, and one is not usually swapped for the other. Read Common Misconceptions About Being a Professional Translator to learn more about how to differentiate between the two.
Finally, remember to choose the right type of interpreter for your event, as conference interpreters and court or community interpreters do not have the same type of training and skillsets.
So, what about legal translation?
Legal translations are optimally performed by professional translators who have legal industry experience, like certified court interpreters – emphasis on the word certified. Legal translation is a highly specialized niche because it must hold space for both the legal system as well as the cultural construct in which the legal system is operating.
As legal professionals, we realize how specialized your field is, especially when it comes to terminology and the full spectrum of situations handled within the courtroom or by legal documentation. This diversity is replicated in the documentation handled by legal translations.
Legal translators work on a substantial array of documentation, including:
- Contracts and agreements
- Wills and trusts
- Identity documentation
- Articles of incorporation
- Official reports
- Litigation papers
- Immigration documents
- File patents
- Witness statements
- Precedents and legal rulings
The critical importance of to-the-letter accuracy required for this level of translation is virtually unrivaled in the field of professional translation. Thus, it’s imperative that these documents are only translated by professional, legal translation specialists who have subject matter expertise (SME). In order to avoid mistakes, they should be native speakers of the target language and have current knowledge and understanding of the laws and cultures of the countries for both the source and target languages.
Certified vs. registered languages
It’s also important to have a passing understanding of the difference between certified and registered languages.
- Certified languages: In the US, at the federal level, there are currently only three certified languages: Spanish, Navajo and Haitian Creole.
However, certified languages are also designated by state courts, and vary from state to state. In California, for example, there are currently 16 certified spoken languages, as well as American Sign Language, and these languages can be changed year to year.
- Registered languages: These are languages that the court recognizes but hasn’t formally certified because they are considered languages of “lesser diffusion.” This means that the court recognizes there’s a need for interpreting/translating at times, but it’s not as common as a certified language. For example, French is a certified language in Washington State, but not in California – an example of how these vary between states, even states that are relatively close or seem fairly similar in their population’s ethnic makeup.
Furthermore – and this is very important – in the US there is no such thing as a “court-certified translator”, rather, only certified or registered court interpreters who certify their own written translations. When a certified or registered court interpreter certifies a translation, they guarantee the translation is accurate and complete to the best of their knowledge and ability; the phrase “to the best of their knowledge and ability” is critical because people are human and mistakes can happen.
Therefore, someone advertising him/herself as a certified court translator in the US is either lying, or they don’t know what they are talking about. In either case, stay away from them! And if they claim to be certified, remember to always ask by whom – which company, association, organization, etc. For your own protection, always check their credentials to avoid being put at risk of embarrassing or debilitating situations if the translations you’ve built a case around are inaccurate.
Also, remember that certified court interpreters are highly-trained language service professionals. While both certified and registered court interpreters have passed oral and written exams, the oral exams for the certified court interpreters are usually much more advanced and include an actual oral interpretation test.
For legal document translations, only trust a qualified professional translator who has legal experience, niche familiarity, and subject matter expertise (SME) pertaining to the particular case or required documentation. Using a professional translator specializing in legal translations, such as but not limited to a certified or registered court interpreter, protects you from getting duped and seeing your translations questioned by the court or opposing counsel.
Don’t confuse “certification” with “notarization”
Finally, certified and notarized documents both have legal weight – but they are not the same thing. So if you are asked to provide a “notarized translation”, we recommend that you check exactly what is required. Chances are, the person requesting this might not be using the right terminology.
Certification ensures a document is “official.” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that any information filled out by an individual is accurate.
As to a notarized document, it doesn’t have anything to do with whether a document is “official”. It simply means a notary public verified that the person who signed the document also provided legal identification verifying their identity, or that a copy is indeed a true copy of the original.
Based on this, in the US, a translation itself can be certified (as accurate and complete) by a certified court interpreter, but it cannot be notarized – the signature affixed to it can be notarized, however.
An apostille is yet another type of certificate unrelated to any type of translation.
Never trust machine translations for legal documents – or anything else
While we’re on the subject of what not to do, may we also impress upon you the high-stakes risks you’ll take if you opt to use machine translators. Currently, there is no machine translator that comes close to professional-quality accuracy. Machines simply cannot work with linguistic nuances such as idioms, emotions, cultural turns of phrases, types of slang, colloquialisms, etc.
Should you find yourself on a vacation in France, needing to find a particular restaurant or street – by all means – trust Google Translate. However, if your professional livelihood depends on the quality of your work, always hire an experienced, professional translator with niche industry familiarity.
Contact Chang-Castillo and Associates for accurate translations and interpreting
Chang-Castillo and Associates has a federally certified and Washington and California State-certified Spanish court interpreter, as well as a California-registered French court interpreter on staff to assist you. Just like all the translators and interpreters we use, they have years of experience and all the necessary credentials to help you meet your linguistic needs. Please contact us to discuss your objectives so we can pair you with the right linguist who can guarantee 100% accuracy in and out of the courtroom.