Compliance in Translation – The Potential Pitfalls of Legal Translation


Post By: Ofer Tirosh, entrepreneur & CEO of Tomedes, a language service provider

Compliance can be a tricky enough subject area in any circumstances, let alone when you’re dealing with more than one language. Being compliant with one country’s regulations in no way guarantees your standing in a new territory, meaning that the legal translation process becomes about much more than language alone. As such, we’re going to take a walk through some of the main pitfalls when it comes to legal translation and compliance. Let’s jump right in.

Analyzing the quality of your compliance translation service 

The first area to be wary of is the quality of your translation service. Usually, you’ll be using a professional translator due to not being able to speak the target language yourself. If COVID-19 has seen you pivoting your services in order for your business to survive and you’re working against the clock, how do you assess the quality of the translation that you’re being given, to ensure that you’re using the best translation services available for the job? 

Well, there are various precautions that you can take to try and ensure the translation quality in the first place, from only using a translation company with outstanding references to always using a native speaker of the target language. Using local government resources to source the ideal translation professional is always a good starting point. 

However, when it comes to checking the quality of the actual translation, you’ll need outside help. Whether it’s a friend who speaks the target language, a colleague, an online language tutor, or even another translation agency, you can use their linguistic expertise to ensure that your legal translation is everything it should be. 

Using a professional translator who lacks sector-specific expertise

Another pitfall to look out for is using a translator who isn’t familiar with your business sector. What are the differences between legal translation and other types of translation? Firstly, a legal translator will have a sound understanding of legal terminology, both in the source language and the target language. They will also be familiar with legal concepts, which can be important when it comes to compliance. 

Why is legal translation important? When it comes to compliance, using a suitably experienced legal translator means that you have access to someone who understands the complex legal terms that your business uses… or does it? Actually, there’s a hidden pitfall here. 

Legal translation can relate to anything from product packaging requirements to family court cases. As such, using the right legal translator means using one who is familiar with your particular area of business. Failing to do so can result in a poorer quality translation – and when it comes to compliance, anything less than exemplary is unacceptable. 

Not using a localization service 

Translation and localization are similar but distinctly different language services. What is the concept of localization? It is to shape a translation to perfectly suit the cultural context of the target audience (whereas translation deals with the conversion of language alone). 

In the context of compliance, localization services are absolutely key. A good localization service will be able to look beyond just language in order to advise on relevant compliance concerns in the target region. This could be anything from differing understandings of legal terms – and even legal concepts – to advice and guidance on upcoming regulatory changes in the target country. 

Local expertise of this nature is essential when it comes to compliance matters. Meeting regulatory requirements is not a static process, so being able to tap into up-to-the-moment insights can be immensely valuable.

Indeed, this is one of many reasons that the language services industry is as large as it is. The industry has an annual growth rate of 5.52%, while the Common Sense Advisory database of worldwide language services providers runs to some 180,000 entries. 

Hidden compliance translation stumbling blocks

The final pitfall of which to be wary when it comes to compliance translation relates to hidden stumbling blocks. Quite where you will come across these during your international compliance journey will largely depend on your particular business, service(s), and product(s). 

However, we can identify a few broad areas that could end up draining your time and your energy. Customs processes are certainly one. You may have crossed the Ts and dotted the Is when it comes to your product, packaging, instruction leaflets, and more, but is everything in order for your customs paperwork? And is it in order in the right language? 

This can be a surprising headache for those who are new to selling their goods and services overseas and sometimes a really troublesome one. Delays in getting your goods through customs can mean disruption to haulage and storage arrangements and delays in getting them to market, with a knock-on effect on your business’ bottom line.

As such, it’s important to ensure that your compliance translation covers not just your goods and services but the overarching processes that relate to them being available in the target language. 

Financial and taxation compliance also rears its head here too. From charging VAT and/or local sales taxes, to which country’s financial system you need to contribute to, you could find yourself wading through reams of foreign-language paperwork. Work closely with your chosen translation service to ensure that you understand and comply with all that you need to – and that your financial advisors do too! 

Final Thoughts 

Businesses around the globe use legal translation services to trade their wares across international borders. Compliance regulations vary hugely around the world, so local knowledge is essential when it comes to ensuring that your company is doing all it should be. Meeting one country’s regulations is no guarantee that you will meet another’s. 

In some cases, compliance translation is straight-forward, but all too often it is a quirky and convoluted process. As such, you’ll need the support of suitably qualified and experienced linguists if you are to get the best out of your international venture. Seek out those with strong translation and localization credentials, and with experience of your particular sector, and you’ll be well on your way to success. 


  1. Having sought translation services in the past, I appreciate these tips and reminders. Don’t be shy when interviewing translation service companies, ask questions, and remember there may be more than one dialect or ‘style’ – Spanish, for example, has more than a couple to choose from.

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