A blog highlighting ES-EN legal terminology

As a translator and teacher of legal English I am always searching for new ways to translate elusive legal terms and am often reminded of a conversation that I once had with a translator specialized in geology and in the oil and gas business. When I told her that I’m a legal translator she categorically declared, “That’s impossible. In my specialty (geology) there’s an equivalent term for each type of rock in both Spanish and English. But there is no way you can translate civil law concepts into common law terms (and vice versa).” She was probably right, but yet legal translators are called upon to do just that everyday, translating everything from a presumably simple birth certificate or academic record to the convoluted opinions rendered by judges on the highest courts. And, indeed, I have spent many years seeking appropriate renderings for often impossible-to-translate concepts that exist in both legal Spanish and legal English, being fully aware that true equivalents rarely exist and that we usually have to make do with what I call “kindred concepts” (functional equivalents) in both languages.

I created this blog to share some of the translation pitfalls that I’ve encountered along the way, many of which were brought to my attention by fellow translators, my students of Legal English, and law professors, attorneys, judges and other translation clients. It is intended to be a meeting place for anyone for whom legal terminology is an essential element of their professional activities in both languages. Thus I welcome comments and suggestions from the many experienced colleagues in the profession who, as I am, are enthusiastically devoted to the study of Spanish-English legal terminology. Some of the areas I will be exploring include:

  • ES-EN legal terminology
  • Legal English for Spanish-speakers
  • False friends
  • Multiple meanings
  • Confusing terms
  • Common words with uncommon legal meanings
  • Expressing civil law concepts in common law terms
  • Español jurídico
  • Latinismos
  • Mistranslations? and
  • Terminology sources

About the author:

Rebecca Jowers is a US-born Spanish-to-English freelance translator and professor of legal English based in Madrid. Since 2001 she has taught legal English at the Universidad Carlos III, first in the Master’s Program in Legal Practice (Máster en el Ejercicio de la Abogacía) and currently in the Master’s Program in Corporate Counsel (Máster en Asesoría Jurídica de Empresas), having previously worked five years as an in-house legal translator at the Elzaburu intellectual property law firm. Majoring in Spanish Language and Literature, she received her Ph.D. from Michigan State University, M.A. from New York University and B.A. from Stetson University (DeLand, Florida). She is  an active participant on the Proz Translation Workplace (http://www.proz.com/profile/8100) and the author of Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés (Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015).

Interview with Fernando Cuñado on the Traducción Jurídica channel.

5 thoughts on “A blog highlighting ES-EN legal terminology

  1. Thank you, Rebecca, this is a wonderful blog!
    I have benefitted from your advice several times in the past, and I am sure that many others will do so from this blog of yours.
    Thanks again.


  2. Hello Ms. Jowers;

    I recently stumbled on your blog while trying to figure out the meaning of certain Spanish legal terms.
    I’m a lawyer in the Philippines, and the legal system of my country is heavily influenced by Spanish law,
    inasmuch as we were under Spain for nearly 350 years.

    I’m so very grateful for your nuanced explanations of the words “auto”, “sentencia” and “providencia”. I
    find them immensely helpful in translating excerpts of court orders in Alcubilla’s book. I’m currently writing
    an essay on cases originating from my country in the 1880s that were appealed to the Tribunal Supremo.

    Occasionally I encounter these terms in some Philippine Supreme Court decisions written prior to the
    second world war, and a few after. Unfortunately, Filipino lawyers no longer use Spanish because the
    official language of the courts here nowadays is English, although I’ve seen a handful of decisions
    written in Tagalog or Filipino.

    Best regards.

    Roberto Luis de la Fuente


    • Hello! I really appreciate your kind comments. It’s encouraging to know that my posts are helpful. I’m aware that Philippine law was once much influenced by Spanish law, and I actually used the English edition of the Philippine Civil Code when searching for appropriate English translations of Spanish civil law terms for my “Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés”. Thanks again for your interest; I’ll be posting some new entries next week. Saludos desde Madrid, Rebecca


  3. Muy estimada Sra. Jowers,

    Muchas gracias por tu respuesta, y te deseo todo lo mejor en la vida.

    Bobby de la Fuente


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