When a field as technical and complex as law enters the international arena, as often happens in our globalized world, legal translation services can be a lifesaver, bridging the language barriers that inevitably arise between professionals from different parts of the world. On the other hand, when doing business in a foreign country or immigrating, which have become increasingly common in the modern era, legal documents may need to be officially translated according to a particular organization’s requirements, either certified, notarized, sworn or legalized. In this article, we will clear up some common misconceptions regarding these different types of legal translations and demonstrate how professional translation services can help you in a variety of situations, whether you’re an international business owner or a lawyer with clients from other countries.
What types of documents require legal translation?
For the non-professionals in this area, sometimes the word “legal” immediately brings to mind images of lawyers with suits and briefcases dramatically appearing before a judge in court and, yes, this sort of work environment certainly relies heavily on legal translation. A lawyer may have a client who is in the process of receiving an inheritance from a recently deceased uncle who had his will written in a foreign language, for example, and that may need to be translated in order to complete the judicial process for the inheritance. The lawyer may also be handling a criminal court case in which one of the witnesses needs to testify in a foreign language, requiring that the transcribed conversation be translated. Or he/she may be mediating a legal dispute between two multinational companies that have had previous agreements drafted in various languages, making translation necessary.
But this is only one part of the big picture. Drama aside, the legal world is also filled with routine administrative documents that we all need, even if we have absolutely no involvement in a court case. Let’s say you’re an English teacher planning on moving to Germany for work purposes. There are a number of legal documents that you may need translated in order to administratively register in various government offices: your birth certificate, marriage certificate, personal ID, passport, etc. You might need to have your university degree translated and legalized (apostilled) in order to have it validated in Germany and be able to find work. In order to find housing, you might have to get your bank reference letters translated to prove your current financial standing. Once you decide to buy a house, you might also decide to have your real estate and home insurance documents translated, so that you can fully understand the conditions you’re agreeing to, without having to struggle with legal terminology in a foreign language.
Types of legal translation services
The terms “legal,” “certified,” “notarized,” “sworn” and “legalized” are sometimes used interchangeably when referring to translation, but doing so can lead to serious miscommunication. They are not the same. The type of translation you need will depend on the type of document you need translated, the purpose of the document and the requirements of the organization you’re submitting that document to.
The term “legal translation” simply indicates that a certain document is of a legal or judicial nature. This does not imply that the translated document has any sort of certification that makes it “official” for governmental purposes. It does, however, mean that a qualified translator with knowledge and qualifications in the legal field has translated the document. Many legal translators are licensed lawyers who use their expertise to dive into the field of translation. Since legal translation involves highly technical language, the translator needs to be thoroughly familiar with legal terminology in both the source and target languages to ensure that the resulting translation is accurate and compliant with legal requirements. This is the type of translation you will seek when you simply need to have a legal document translated for personal or professional informational purposes. In the immigration example cited above, for instance, you may have your real estate and house insurance documents translated by a legal translator simply to ensure that you understand the conditions. In this case, additional certification is not necessary because that document is not being submitted to a particular entity.
Sometimes, however, an organization will require that additional steps be taken to submit an “official” translation, either certified, notarized, sworn or legalized. A certified translation is accompanied by a signed certificate confirming the translator’s credentials and declaring that the content of the document is complete and accurate. Documents that sometimes require a certified translator are court transcripts, birth and marriage certificates, educational documentation or certain immigration documents. This depends on the office receiving that documentation, though.
Notarized translations, on the other hand, can be completed by any translator. That translator simply needs to sign before a notary, confirming that the translation is accurate and complete, and the notary verifies that person’s identity. Therefore, notarized translations don’t make any sort of statement regarding the translator’s credentials. Education-related documents such as transcripts and diplomas sometimes need to be notarized.
In some cases, however, those documents need to be legalized or apostilled, especially when they will be used abroad. Having your university degree validated in a foreign country, for example, may require a legalized translation of your diploma. The foreign ministry or legalization office in your country will stamp the translation when the translator signs before a public official, making the document legalized.
Sworn translations can only be completed by credentialed translators who have taken an oath in court. Depending on the country’s requirements, these translators must first complete a specific university degree and/or pass a government-regulated exam before being sworn in. These translators can simply stamp their translations, proving their credentials as sworn translators. For example, patents or certain documents required to incorporate a company sometimes require this type of sworn translation.
Make sure to verify the type of translation that is required before seeking professional translation services. No matter what kind a certain situation calls for, a translation agency like SIGNEWORDS will be able to provide the legal translation you need.