Legal translation errors have sometimes led to high-profile commercial disputes in China.
How can US businesses succeed in the Chinese market and avoid common pitfalls?
In 2012, the Shanghai Maritime Court heard a case that hinged on basic translation errors whereby “drydocking” was mistranslated as “tank washing,” and “except fuel used for domestic service” as “except fuel used for domestic flights.”
This is not the first time that language issues caused legal confusion. These legal translation errors gave rise to costly disputes between the Chinese and foreign parties about their respective rights and obligations under the agreement.
Here is some helpful information that will forewarn you about potential translation difficulties in China and help you to avoid them.
Use Professional Translation Services to Minimize Risk
An experienced legal translator should perform your translation. Using inexperienced or unqualified translators increases the likelihood of significant errors, and legal translation errors can be costly.
Always use qualified legal translators with expertise in technical terminology. Professional legal translators are more likely to produce accurate Chinese-language documents that faithfully capture the intended meaning of agreements.
Legal translation is a specialized skill. Jin Xiaofeng, judge of the Shanghai Maritime Court, explained to China Daily: “There are loads of translation agencies in Shanghai … but the quality is varied and professional translators that have expertise in a particular aspect are scarce.”
Dan Harris writes on his China Law blog that he often sees an “English language contract that says ‘A’ and a Chinese language contract that says ‘not A’.” Compounding this error, the Chinese language contract will often assert that in any dispute its wording will prevail. Unfortunately, occurrences like this are common. Take the necessary precautions to protect your investments.
Protect Your Business: Avoid Inaccurate Legal Translation
Here are some simple tips to remember that will help you to minimize the risk of inaccurate Chinese translation:
- Industry-specific translation experience is vital when choosing a translation service. Trade meanings will often differ from common idioms.
- Legal translation requires an understanding of key legal terms. Disputes arise when words like “must” are changed to “may” or vice versa. Legal translation requires a nuanced understanding of the meanings of legal terms.
- Don’t be naïve. There have been many instances where one party to an agreement will seek undue commercial advantage by writing alternate meanings into translated documents. Protect your interests by using a professional translation service.
- If you do not have control over choosing the initial translation service, it may be wise to request a copy of the Chinese version and procure a back translation. This will ensure that you know exactly what is stated in both versions of the agreement, and the extra cost at the onset is undoubtedly minimal in comparison with future legal disputes.
Quality legal translation is a necessity for firms aiming to operate in the Chinese market. Contact LLS to obtain accurate Chinese legal translations you can trust.