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Contract Translation: 5 Ways to Minimize Cost and Turnaround Time

Jan 23, 2017

When translating contracts, there is zero room for error. Even a seemingly trivial deviation from the original text could result in an unexpected disadvantage which will last the entire lifetime of the contract. Ultimately, mistranslations could result in costly mediation or even legal fees.

Legally binding contracts should be translated either by a professional linguist with proven contract translation experience or by a Language Service Provider (LSP) that specializes in legal translation services. While a high-quality contract translation won’t come cheap, there are proactive ways to minimize costs and ensure the quickest possible turnaround time, including:

  1. Keep contracts simple by avoiding jargon

Jargon – terms used in a particular professional setting that are likely not understood by people outside that profession – should be avoided as much as possible. Jargon complicates the contract writing (and translation) process and can add an element of ambiguity to your document. This could potentially open up your document to alternate interpretations – which is precisely what you want to avoid when building an ironclad contract.

Instead, a contract should be as short as possible and written in simple and clear language that can be easily understood. By choosing words that can be translated with the greatest precision, you will not only protect the original intent and meaning of the contract, but you will also receive a faster and more accurate translation from your LSP.

  1. Rely upon your LSP’s translation memory

Translation memory is a database of translation terms, sentences, headings, or other segments kept on file for reuse at a later time. If you are translating contracts into the same languages on a regular basis, and if those contracts contain many of the same exact sentences or paragraphs, there is no reason to pay to translate the same sentences every time. You can lower costs and cut turnaround times by asking your LSP to implement translation memory for your contract translations.

Qualified LSPs utilize this computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool to recognize and “remember” previously translated segments of your documents. This means that provisions/clauses/conditions that have been translated previously into a given language can be stored and reused for future translation projects. This not only helps cut translation costs and speed up turnaround times, it also helps ensure consistency and accuracy across your contract translation projects.

  1. Use legalese only when it is the most useful terminology

A legal contract will, by definition, utilize legal language (often called “legalese”). Some legalese is unavoidable, but it can include archaic-sounding terms such as “hitherto” or “forthwith” – words whose exact definitions are unclear and usually have no precise equivalent in other languages. You should avoid this type of terminology and instead focus on legal words that actually help make the contract clearer and more effective.

In certain situations, legalese really is the most useful terminology. In fact, the term “useful legalese” has recently come into fashion, expressing the idea that what is most important in choosing a word is how useful it is rather than how it sounds.

Bottom line: If the words make the meaning clearer, use them. If not, avoid them.

  1. Use contract models for accelerated and more accurate translations

Contracts drafted in different countries and cultures may vary widely in presentation. The customary language, tone, and even order of principles in American contracts could require significant modification for a German or Swedish legal setting.

Gaining a sense of how the contract should be laid out in the target language will go a long way toward creating highly translatable contracts. Awareness of the standard information, document flow, and appearance suitable in the target jurisdiction is critical for keeping costs minimized.

Use contract models to save time on standard contract sections in different languages. Modeling a contract can also help reveal areas that are either too ambiguous or too technical for translation.

  1. Avoid using doublets

Many contracts employ unnecessary word-numeral doublets or sequenced word doublets and triplets. For example, a contract may dictate a numerical figure and in addition, write it out in words like this: “$32,000 (thirty-two thousand dollars)”. Or an employment agreement may say that the employer “employs, engages and hires” an employee rather than simply “employing” him.

For a translation-friendly contract, avoid using these types of doublets. The practice of utilizing doublets can add significantly to the cost of the contract translation (since most LSPs charge per word) and may inadvertently introduce ambiguity into the contract or worse, redundancy. Both inevitably add cost and therefore should be avoided.

Steps for saving time and money

The investment in professional contract translation is worthwhile given the importance of having an enforceable contract in place that is clearly understood by all the relevant parties and jurisdictions. Quality is paramount. But you can still maintain quality while lowering translation costs by drafting a contract with an eye toward making it straightforward to translate. Fewer words and less legalese will result in a more cost efficient and timely translation and even a better, clearer contract overall.

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