Webinar Review: Spanish legal translation – a comparison of two different legal systems

Yesterday I attended a webinar entitled “Spanish legal translation – a comparison of two different legal systems” (eCPD webinars: https://www.ecpdwebinars.co.uk), presented by Sofia Brough-Aparicio, a Spanish translator who specialises in the legal field. What caught my attention was that the webinar dealt with my specific language pair and a field in which I work a lot, both as a translator and as an interpreter. When it comes to webinars and courses, I often struggle to find a balance between something that is all-encompassing, yet specific enough to make it worthwhile. Well, I have to say that this particular one was almost there, with some interesting information, especially when it comes to terminology, but also including a very fast, general overview of common and civil law.

The duration of the webinar was 1 hour 11 minutes and, in that time, the presenter offered a very brief definition of “law”, talked about its sources, listed some features of legal discourse, showed us a diagram with the court system in Spain and the UK, and presented some common terms and problems, together with their possible solutions.

What I found the most useful was the specific comments which were made mostly on the side, and which  I’ve listed below:

  • “Trust” has generally been translated as “fideicomiso”, but judges and specialists have been arguing that the translation does not mean the same as the original, which is why the term should be kept in English, to make the context clear.
  • “Common law” is generally translated as “derecho consuetudinario”, but the same argument as above has been made, leading to translations such as “derecho común” and the loanword “common law”, left in English in the Spanish translation. Examples of the latter can be found in EUR-Lex, the official website of European Union law, published in 24 languages and used as reference by many of us translators.
  • The presenter took the time to remind us that “jurisprudencia” is not the same as “jurisprudence”; that “court” is translated as “tribunal” in Spanish, but “tribunal” in English is not a court; and that “sentence” is translated as “condena” or “pena” because it is limited to criminal cases only, while “sentencia” in Spanish is a more general term.
  • “Parte demandada” tends to be used more often or be a better choice than “demandado/a” because it is gender neutral.
  • English tends to use more capitals and markers of emphasis (words in all capitals) than Spanish, and the translator does not need to reproduce this.

Apart from these really good tips, I enjoyed the diagrams with the categories of law in England — divided into International and National Law, the latter further divided into Public and Private, etc. — and in Spain, with one of the main differences being that “Derecho Internacional” can be either public or private; and that “Derecho Laboral” is within “Derecho Público”. There is also a very useful chart comparing civil and criminal cases, with different terms used to refer to the parties involved, the courts that deal with the different cases, the authorities who make the decisions, and what these decisions can be (i.e. liable or not liable vs. guilty and not guilty).

The presenter also offered a summary of common and civil law, and I have to say that it went a little fast for me. Confusing, even. I had to stop the video several times and read the handout (which is a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation she went through) to make sure I understood what was happening. The chart with the hierarchy of courts in England and Wales is not particularly clear either, although the one with the courts in Spain is better.

At the end of the webinar, the presenter commented briefly on sources of information. She did so in a very general way, mentioning that we can access legal knowledge in multilingual texts, dictionaries and glossaries. I found this part the least useful of all, as every translator in the world knows about the existence of glossaries, dictionaries and parallel texts. Instead, I would have liked to see her talk about some or all of the links she listed at the end of the presentation, which were barely mentioned at all. I think sharing useful resources and good ways of using them efficiently is the best tip any translator can give you.

Finally, the presenter quickly showed some birth certificates in English and Spanish. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often struggle to translate basic legal texts such as birth and marriage certificates. The terminology is readily available and there are many parallel texts which are easily accessible online. Where is gets really tricky is when it comes to long agreements or even terms and conditions, which often have long sentences and complex syntax, so I didn’t find this part useful either.

All in all, I’m really happy I got to attend this webinar, as I did learn some interesting information and clarified some concepts I had already read about. I didn’t find the entire presentation useful, but somebody else with a different background or level of experience might capitalise from different parts. Next time, I’d rather attend a more specific, in-depth webinar, maybe on a particular area of law, which might provide more in-depth and specialised information.

By Agustina Marianacci

Photo by Claire Anderson via www.unsplash.com


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