Free trade agreements are critical to ensuring the economic health of countries, creating jobs and adding much needed business capital to spur growth. That was the case in 2011 when South Korea and the European Union were busy hammering out such an agreement. Both sides were, they thought, scrupulous in their examination of each section of the agreement, and, satisfied that their interests had been appropriately addressed, signed the agreement that year.
That confidence was shattered when a South Korean lawyer, Song Ki-ho, fluent in both English and Korean, discovered some glaring inaccuracies which had resulted from inaccurate translation. Specifically, whereas the English translation required English architects only to pass a straightforward examination to receive their licenses, the Korean version necessitated in addition no less than five years of architectural experience, as was the case for South Korean architects. The translation mistake which Song discovered had actually made it more difficult for citizens of South Korea to be licensed than for their European counterparts.
The EU/South Korean free trade agreement snafu is just one example of the need for accurate translation in the legal industry. Such translations require not only a deep understanding of the language (particularly legal terminology) of each participant to an international business transaction, but also a thorough grounding in the legal systems of the countries involved.
Business transactions of this magnitude can put millions of dollar at risk, and participants to those transactions are typically willing to spend huge sums on travel, legal staff, and postage to mail reams of documents across borders. All too often, however, they try to save money when it comes to securing competent legal translation services, sometimes relegating that work to any staff member with only rudimentary translation skills.
Fundamental Skills and Competencies
Legal translation is a highly-skilled profession, one which requires comprehensive training and a number of fundamental skills to ensure accurate transactions and agreements. Among the several competencies needed by legal translators, two are critical:
- Language Training: legal translators must possess an exemplary understanding of the languages involved. This includes not only the nuances of generic grammar, syntax and vocabulary, but also those elements of each language which specifically pertain to the law and to business.
- Legal Training: equally important, effective legal translation necessitates a deep understanding of the law as practiced in each of the countries. Mistakes which occur due to inadequate grasp of contract law, for example, can be as damaging as those related to sentence structure or the meaning of individual words.
Mistakes in legal translation are often costly, not only in terms of lost revenues, but also with regard to subsequent litigation. Competent legal translation requires a thorough understanding of both language and the law and a meticulous attention to detail. Considering the risk involved, securing competent legal translation services represents a prudent investment for business.
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