For those of us who are multi-lingual, our mother tongue still greatly influences how we interpret things or present them in any other languages spoken.

If we are not careful or do not receive specialized knowledge, it is so easy to make assumptions based on our own culture or language, including rote translations that don’t take into account the other culture, attitudes and expressions. Oftentimes these seemingly small or insignificant assumptions can make or break a legal case or a business deal.

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When you add in the difference between legal systems, even when a word is technically translated correctly, the concept can vary significantly from one legal system to another to the point of derailing a case or transaction. Furthermore, since the accuracy of a legal document often depends on syntax and careful word selection, things cannot simply be translated by anyone who knows the language.

Even when a business deal is made between individuals of two different nationalities, the expectations upon closing could mean very different things. One theoretical example is given regarding a real estate deal between a US national and an Italian national that portrays a difference in the understanding of notaries and public instruments. If only the translating lawyer knew this, it would have saved the theoretical individuals involved a great deal of headache.

In an actual case from a few years ago, Canadian Supreme Court Justice Anthony Hill had to declare a mistrial as a result of a court interpreter mistranslating a number of texts, including translating “sexual assault” as “physical assault” and “two days” as a “couple of weeks.” These errors were deemed sufficient for the entire case against Hindi-speaking defendant Vishnu Dutt Sharma to be jeopardized.

Additionally, having a good legal translator likely made the difference between winning and losing in a case between shoemaker Christian Louboutin and fashion house Yves Saint-Laurent. Louboutin won the case after hiring very proficient legal translators who had experience with many international legal cases.

These are only a few examples, with many others existing around the world. When you are dealing with international legal cases or business deals involving not only individuals who speak different languages, but also very different legal and financial procedures, it is best to err on the side of caution so that you don’t lose a great deal of time and money.

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