Translating Legal Documents without Losing Meaning

///Translating Legal Documents without Losing Meaning
Translating Legal Documents without Losing Meaning2017-12-07T07:00:55+02:00
  • Translating Legal Documents

We are experts in translating legal documents from English to other languages, like Afrikaans. Many people often ask us the following question: Surely if the law requires readers to be able to understand a legal document, it must be in more than one language?

This is a very valid question. In South Africa, we have even 11 official languages and if most of the readers of a legal document are Afrikaans speaking, it makes sense that the document really should be in Afrikaans. And it should be in plain Afrikaans, not Afrikaans legalese. The law requires some documents (like statutes) to be in multiple languages.

But practically it can be hard for an organisation to do this. It can be very costly and time-consuming to have a document in multiple plain languages. So, what we recommend is that organisations first ensure that they have the plain English version of a document. That is always the first step. Once that has been achieved and preferably it has been tested with the readers, then an organisation can consider translating that document into another language, like Afrikaans.

The infographic above is from Parent24. “The info for this infographic is supplied by Oxford University Press who have just introduced Hola! Masifunde – the very first IsiXhosa Home Language reading programme for Foundation Phase.

A point to consider. If South Africa has 11 official languages, why on earth would anyone want to use another language which is not one of those in a legal document. It is just crazy to use Latin or French in a South African legal document.

It is very easy for the meaning to get lost in translation

You have to be very careful when translating a legal document from English to another language. It is very easy for the meaning to get lost in translation. The right person needs to do the translation. And the right person is:

  • an attorney
  • who is bilingual in both of the languages; and
  • is also an expert in plain legal language.

It is crucial to get the legal terminology correct. We have the right people for the job.


If you are interested, please complete the form on the right or enquire now. We will contact you to find out more about your requirements and give you a quote.