The Unique Challenges of Legal Translation in Latin America
By Evelyn Paredes, MultiLing
The fastest growing economies in Latin America come from four countries – Peru, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico – the four members of the Pacific Alliance. These countries, which together hold 36 percent of the region’s GDP and half of its exports, recently agreed to eliminate tariffs on 92 percent of trade among their countries, a major step forward in meeting the alliance’s main goal of working as a united trade partner with Asia.
This poses the question: Is the translation business in Latin America, specifically these four countries, really prepared to handle the increasing demand for legal translations in the region and beyond?
Let’s take a look at what language looks like in Latin America. When most people think about the region comprised of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, they think primarily about the Spanish language. In fact, Latin America is neither culturally or linguistically homogeneous at all. While 60 percent of the total population of Latin America speaks Spanish, about 30 percent speak Portuguese and another 6 percent speak other languages such as Quechua, Guaraní, Aymara, and Mayan.
Even more challenging in Latin America is that each country may have different local dialects, as well as rich cultures and radically different laws based on these cultures. As a result, translating legal documents requires much more than precision and technical expertise in the legal texts of the countries involved. It also requires a thorough understanding of the country’s law, dialect, and the local culture. With most legal systems and concepts dependent on local cultures, legal translations, formats, and styles of documents – as well as various terminology – can vary considerably from country to country. This means that especially for patents, translators should be in-country native linguists, scientists, engineers, and/or legal specialists.
In addition, as more global companies look to do business with Asian companies, they will need to find translation service providers who have those expertise in the languages of the countries in which they want to do business – Chinese, Japanese or Korean – as well as their Latin American language.
Other considerations when translating legal documents in Latin America?
1. While nearly all Latin American countries have different laws, most Latin American jurisdictions have a legal system based in civil law. For the countries that are ruled by civil law, legislation represents the primary legal basis. The courts of law base their sentences on the provisions of the legal codes. Meanwhile, past cases are the main source of law and the basis for creating rules of conduct in the Common Law System. As a result, legal translators should be trained in both common law and civil law systems.
2. When it comes to legal translations, we can generally identify two types in Latin America: certified and notarized translations. The first can vary by the country where the document is required and the purpose of the translation, with the translators being certified with their own seal to stamp on the translations. Most Latin American countries have an official system of certified translations, requiring documents for official use be translated by an authorized legal translator. On the other hand, notarized translations must be brought to a lawyer/notary public for a seal verifying their accuracy.
As the economy in Latin America continues to grow, the need for qualified legal translation service providers will grow as well. Knowing how to navigate the languages as well as the myriad legal processes in Latin America will be critical for your success.
Evelyn Paredes, based in Peru, is the director of business development in Latin America for MultiLing, an innovative leader in IP translation and related support services for foreign patent filings by Global 500 legal teams. Paredes holds degrees in engineering, education (both a bachelors and masters) and linguistics, and speaks English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. She began her career as a patent translator before moving into sales and business development.
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of GALA.