Usually, the original language version is the binding document that will ultimately be in force. However, translations are useful not only for information purposes but also to assist with the negotiation process. Clearly a poor translation may not just be useless but could potentially lead to damaging misunderstandings.
We’re used to working with blackline documents and can follow a revision methodology where we translate the changes between different versions of the same contract.
The Plain English Drive
There are different cultural influences in the way contracts are presented. For example, the UK (and also the US) have a continuing “plain English” drive whereby contracts should not be written in incomprehensible legalese. Instead simple language, but used very precisely, is sufficient for most purposes.
Pronomial adverbs (“therefor”, “therein”, “hereby”, “hereto” and “wherein”) are generally to be avoided. Using two words to mean the same thing is generally to be avoided (e.g. “will and testament”, “fit and proper”, “null and void”, “breaking and entering” etc). Additionally, grammar should be kept simple.
But, in English as in other languages, contracts are often written in complex language. To read more about the Plain English drive, click here.
Academic study (de Groot 1992) provides a useful framework for assessing the difficulty of legal contract translation according to how different the legal systems are and how different the languages are. If the legal systems are similar, the task is easier.
Similar languages but different legal systems (e.g. German to Dutch) are challenging because of the risk of “false friends”. The biggest challenge, unsurprisingly, is translating between very different languages and legal systems.