Legal translation is a very specialized field of translation. It is very difficult to translate legalese if you don’t have the training, experience, or knowledge.
In fact, I don’t know anyone that is able to adequately translate legalese who doesn’t have at least some experience or knowledge in the legal field.
Even after so much studying and training, however, legal translators are like translators with other types of specialities: they all need and rely on a collection of legal translation dictionaries and glossaries to help them with their translation work.
This is even true for translators that are not legal translators by training, but find themselves doing legal-type translations every once in a while.
As much as we translators are taught that we should never translate outside our area of specialization, outside factors like economics (a big one) and pride in our abilities to translate everything out there (maybe not so big) seem to dictate otherwise, and most of us will do a translation that we don’t feel totally comfortable with at least once or twice during our translation careers.
As a legal translator, one of the most important tools to have at your disposal is translation dictionaries and glossaries specific to the field of law. In fact, I find that it’s a good idea to have different kinds of specialized dictionaries on a variety of different subjects just in case I’m ever called on to translate something I don’t feel fully comfortable with.
Since this article is about legal translation, though, let’s take a look at the top five free legal terminology translation dictionaries out there.
Top Five Free Online Law Dictionaries for
Interpreters and Translators
Wisconsin State Court Legal Glossaries
This is actually a link to a collection of legal dictionaries and glossaries that have been published by different state court systems within the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification. Languages include Arabic, Urdu, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Romanian, Mong, among others. This is a great resource for anyone looking to improve their knowledge of legal terminology both in English and their second language.
Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia
This is a glossary of 5,000 legal and court-related terms used in Canada. Each entry includes a simplified explanation for the term as well as it’s equivalent (if it has such) in seven different languages: Chinese, Korean, Farsi, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The site uses a super easy interface and will definitely help any legal translator develop a better understanding of basic and medium-level legal terminology.
National Center for State Courts
Another great resource that has links to monolingual and bilingual dictionaries. According to its website:
The Center is basically an organization set up to improve how state courts in the United States are administered. As such, it obviously is interested in making sure that legal informatioon is available in multiple languages so that everyone can benefit.
Eversheds European Dictionary of Selected Legal Terms
This is a PDF file of a book published by Eversheds LLP, an international law firm. The file is a glossary in the strictest sense of the word. There are no definitions. If you’re looking for what a particular word means, you’re better off trying a different type of glossary or dictionary. However, if you just want to know one-to-one equivalents in multiple languages, this glossary will give that to you. The glossary has terms in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
InterActive Terminology for Europe (IATE)
The IATE is an online database of not just legal terms, but terminology in many other domains as well, including finance, science, agriculture, among many others. One of the great things about this database is the number of languages it has (25!). What’s more, the database is constantly being updated by translators and interpreters, leading to a real, living database that will remain relevant for a long, long time.
Interested in becoming a better legal translator? Here are some tips that could help.