Traduttore – Traditore!

A rather dramatic saying in true Italian style that means Translator – Traitor! Whilst it is intended more so in a literary sense, there is some relevance to working in foreign countries.

I recently read on a popular UK TV property website where they recommend foreign buyers to use a local lawyer and utilise a translator, rather than use an international or Anglo/Italian firm. In principle I am inclined to agree as it is more advantageous to choose the most suitable lawyer for your particular situation, and not primarily because they speak English. However, having done a lot of work using translators I would add a word of caution.

translatorFirstly, not all translators are equal, language is a complex and varied mode of communication and we have all seen the hilarious consequences of some literal translations. It is therefore vital that you find someone who can convey all the nuance as well as the content between you. On a number of occasions I have found myself ardently recounting a very important and detailed scenario with, what I considered useful accompanying hand gestures, only to subsequently witness the translator make the briefest of aloof sentences followed by silence and looks of mutual indifference. I am left wondering did he really convey everything I said in such succinct fashion? or just say ‘no idea what this idiot’s talking about’

Secondly, their job is not to fully understand your situation, it is simply to recount what each person says, and you must be aware that the local lawyer, whilst knowing the rules and norms of their jurisdiction inside out, will not likely be aware of your perception and expectations. They will understandably therefore structure and convey the information in a manner befitting their own conventions, and this can lead to some misunderstandings. For example, from knowledge of your own country norms, you may feel they are doing something unnecessary, or conversely not doing something they should be.

Don’t expect a fully structured walkthrough on every point and every potential eventuality. There can be somewhat of an attitude of ‘don’t get wet before it rains’ so if you are accustomed to a particular way of approaching problems, or don’t like surprises, then prepare in advance a list of questions that you need to satisfy your own concerns, they might not even be relevant to the law of that country, but it will help put your mind at rest and help prevent potential misunderstanding.

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