Archives: Translation

A long time ago (before we even started this blog, I believe) one of our summer associates, Ben Kostrzewa, compiled a Chinese-English translation of fifty common legal words. I have had that list on my computer ever since and I just come across it again and figured I would run it on here so others might take advantage of it. Not even sure why this list was compiled but it appears to have been aimed at least as much to assist the Chinese lawyers with whom we work as to assist our clients doing business in China.

At this point I have my doubts that I would choose all fifty of these words for such a list, but since the translations are accurate and since they have already been compiled, we are going with it.

If you notice any inaccuracies, please let us know my commenting below. Similarly, if you want to add to the list, please do so.

诉讼-Sue, Litigate

机构-Agency

上诉-Appeal

法案-Bill

案件/案例-Case

民法-Civil

控诉-Complaint/Charge

宪法-Constitution

合同-Contract

证明有罪/定罪-Conviction

有限公司-Corporation

法庭-Court

债权人-Creditor

犯人-Criminal

债户-Debtor

契-Deed

被告人-Defendant

义务-Duty

产业-Estate

证据-Evidence

行政-Executive

联邦制-Federal/Federalism

理由-Grounds

判决-Judgment

司法-Judicial

陪审团-Jury

法律-Law

责任/义务-Liability

制定/通过 法律-Legislate

抵押-Mortgage

动议-Motion

过失-Negligence

可转让的-Negotiable

文书-Instrument

意见-Opinion (Not Judge’s Decision)

当事人-Party

原告/申诉人-Plaintiff

辩护-Plead/Pleading

财产-Property

管理/调整-Regulate

权利-Right

证券-Security (bond, stock)

判决-Sentence

法律-Statute

证据Testimony

产权书-Title

侵权行为-Tort

托拉斯-Trust

认定-Verdict

遗嘱-Will

见证/证人-Witness

Your contract with your Chinese co-party is your key to a successful China venture and your lifeboat should the business relationship go awry.  That being the case, I am always amazed how often people essentially ignore the translation of their contract. A recent China Daily article, aptly entitled, “Translation errors cause disputes over contract terms,” nicely highlights the frequency and the sort of legal problems that can arise from bad translations.

Last year, for instance, the Shanghai Maritime Court heard a case instigated by obvious translation goofs (“drydocking” mistranslated as “tank washing” and “domestic service” misinterpreted as “domestic flights”) that a bilingual translator with even a basic familiarity with the contract’s subject matter would have caught immediately. Jin Xiaofeng, Judge of the Shanghai Maritime Court, explains: “There are loads of translation agencies in Shanghai and in the nation, but the quality is varied and professional translators that have expertise in a particular aspect are scarce.”

Our law firm has certainly seen its share of translation disasters over the years, including some that were clearly deliberate.  My favorite (which I have seen at least a half a dozen times) is to do an English language contract that says “A” and a Chinese language contract that says “not A.”  The Chinese language contract then makes clear that in any dispute it will prevail. The American party thinks it just signed a contract that says “A” but in reality it just signed a contract that says “not A.”  We have twice dealt with situations where a company came to us believing that its joint venture agreement required the joint venture entity to use the American company as the exclusive US distributor of the Joint Venture’s products, but the contract actually made the US company the exclusive distributor of the Chinese joint venture partner’s product. The problem in both cases was that the Chinese company joint venture partner had never and was not making the product for which the US company believed that it had become the exclusive distributor. Then there are the countless times a word like “must” is changed to “may.”

Bottom line: Good legal translators are incredibly rare. When it comes to selecting a translator for your contract, insist on experience and specialization.  The best solution — by far — is a truly bilingual attorney who works just for you.

We welcome your best lost-in-translation horror stories.

Google Translate has a beta version up for translating from Traditional Chinese (h/t to Fili’s World) into English and from English into both Traditional and Simplified Chinese. Simplified Chinese is commonly used in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, while traditional Chinese is most common in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. According to Fili’s World, Google Translate is better than Babel Fish. Google Translate is surprisingly good for translating from Chinese to English and from English to Chinese.

I have used online translators to respond quickly to e-mails in Spanish, German and Russian when there is no time to have someone in my firm fluent in these languages help in the response. The translations generally are not bad, but certainly not anywhere near 100%.  The Russian translations tend to be the worst and that makes sense since it is the least like English.  A good way to test these translators is to input something in English and have it translated into the foreign language and then translate it back to English. I did this with Google Beta going from English to Simplified Chinese and then back to English and I was stunned at how well it did.

It’s not going to replace human translation, but it might just work in a pinch.