Pitfalls of Spanish-English Legal Translation (II) (Non-linguistic and Cultural Aspects)

Pitfalls of Spanish-English Legal Translation(2)

As noted in previous blog entries, in March I was invited by the European Commission’s Spanish translators at the Directorate General for Translation (DGT) to give a conference on Spanish-English legal translation in Brussels and in Luxembourg. The conference has been published in three issues of puntoycoma, Boletín de los traductores españoles de las instituciones de la Unión Europea, and in the event it may prove of interest, the third installment in the latest issue of puntoycoma entitled “‘Trampas’ en la traducción del español jurídico (II) (Aspectos extralingüísticos y culturales)” is available here:


In this issue I look at some of the non-linguistic pitfalls of legal translation, including the ellipses, cryptic expressions and general legalese used by Spanish legal professionals that rarely appear in bilingual dictionaries, as well as changes in legal terminology derived from legislative reform. In addition, I examine how a translator’s own legal culture may prompt translation mistakes, with examples from Spanish criminal law and criminal procedure that could easily be misinterpreted from a common law perspective.

A previous (second) installment of this article entitled “‘Trampas’ en la traducción del español jurídico (II) (Aspectos lingüísticos) reviewed some of the most common language-based pitfalls that Spanish-English translators encounter when rendering legal concepts, including different levels of “false friends,” polysemy in legal language, the problem of legal synonyms that appear to be the “same thing with a different name,” whether to translate expressions in Latin, and differences between legal language in the US and the UK:


And the first installment of this article “Aciertos y desafíos en la traducción jurídica español-inglés” focused on four specific aspects of Spanish-English legal translation: “Traducciones que sí ‘encajan’” (concepts of Spanish law that fortunately have a close “functional equivalent” in Anglo-American law); “Traducciones (dudosas) generalmente aceptadas” (a controversial topic concerning generally-accepted renderings that are actually mistranslations in certain contexts); “Traducciones inventadas” (a look at a couple of invented translations that, nevertheless, appear in Internet publications and elsewhere; and “Traducciones imposibles” (which addresses the problem of translating legal terms that have no corresponding concept in Common Law):


2 thoughts on “Pitfalls of Spanish-English Legal Translation (II) (Non-linguistic and Cultural Aspects)

  1. Dear Rebecca,

    Thank you very much for your generosity by helping us, translators, understand legal English terminology much better and learn it with a super clear mind!

    Yours faithfully,



    • Hi, Rafael,
      Thanks so much for your kind words! I will continue to add blog entries that I think may be of interest to legal translators. I really appreciate your input.

      Saludos from Madrid,


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