We welcome our “Linguist of the Month”, Andrew Leigh, a British translator specializing in legal and commercial translations from Spanish and from French into English. Andrew owns Allegro Legal Translations, based in Sheffield, south Yorkshire. Our faithful correspondent, Cynthia Hazelton, like Andrew, holds a law degree and works as a professional legal translator. Cindy also teaches French-English legal translation at Kent State University. The interview was conducted between Cleveland, Ohio, USA and Sheffield, England.
Andrew Leigh, LL.B.
Cynthia Hazelton, D. Jur.
Cynthia Hazelton : Please tell our readers the trajectory of your career as a translator.
Andrew Leigh : I suppose I took a typical path to a translation career. I was good at languages in secondary school and took my first degree in languages at the University of Salford. I continued my education at the University of Westminster in London where I earned an M.A. in Translation in 1999. Immediately after graduation, I found a job as an in-house translator at an agency in London. I worked there for three years. It was a wonderful way to get started in translation. I worked on all types of translations, and my senior colleagues edited my work. I learned by actually doing translations in a very supportive atmosphere. At that time, I wasn’t specializing in any one field. I did medical, technical, accounting and business translations. I decided that it would be best to specialize in one field, and I enjoyed the law very much. That’s when I started to take more legal work.
In 2003 I moved to Sheffield and set myself up as a freelance legal translator. I soon realized that to be a good legal translator, I needed some background in law. I translated during the day and went to law school at night for 5 years. We had two children during this time, so my life was very busy.
When I received my law degree, I established my business as Allegro Legal Translations.
I work for private individuals, corporations, law firms and translation agencies. I enjoy working for different types of clients.
C.H.: Because you specialize in legal translations (from French to English and from Spanish to English), this puts you in the field of “jurilinguistics." This means that you have to bridge two languages and two legal systems at the same time. You have to convey in the target text, for example, a concept in French law which may be foreign to your British or American client. How do you prepare yourself to translate between the Civil and Common Law systems?
A.L.: Well, this is what I do every day. This is where having a law degree comes into play. Having a solid understanding of both the Civil and Common law systems gives me an appreciation of both systems. For example, when I have to translate the name of a court, such as the Conseil des Prud’hommes, which has no equivalent in Common Law, I understand how to explain it in English.
C.H.: Can you give us an example of a legal concept that exists in one system but not in the other?
A.L.: The Common Law concept of « trust » doesn’t exist in Civil Law. And the Civil Law concept of “réserve héreditaire” doesn’t exist in Common Law. Here you have to ask yourself who is the client. If this translation is for a private client, I will have to expand on the translation and explain the concept. If it’s for a lawyer, particularly one who deals with French law, I can leave the term in French or translate it, but without explanation.
C.H.: Much has been written and spoken about Machine Translation. The NY Times and the Economist have recently carried articles about the great progress that Google has made in this field. Have you already felt the effects of MT in your business?
A.L.: No, I haven’t experienced any change in my business. The volume has not changed and I’m still translating the same kind of documents. I haven’t been asked to do post-editing of a MT document.
C.H.: Do you think human translators will become redundant?
A.L.: The role of human translators will probably change, but I don’t think we will ever become redundant. There will always be a need for a human translator, somewhere along in the translation process. As an example, I was translating a document recently and arrived at a word in the source text that made no sense in the context, even though it was a correct word in the source language. I finally realized that it had been misspelled. The properly-spelled word made perfect sense. A machine couldn’t have done that. It required a human translator to catch the error.
I recently saw a quote about this topic: “Machine translation will only be a threat to people who translate like machines.“
C.H.: How will Brexit, once it has taken place, affect the tendency of Brits to work and live abroad, and will it have an effect the motivation of the younger generation to study European languages?
A.L.: Translators are generally broad-minded. A recent survey of British translators showed that around 95% of them favored staying in the EU. I’m sure Brexit will result in a loss of opportunities. I took part in the Erasmus program, and studied in France and Spain. Brexit will affect the freedom of movement to live and work in another country. Translators will have to apply for visas and work permits. There will be barriers to integration.
In the UK, it’s no longer compulsory to study a foreign language throughout high school. I’m afraid that Brexit will increase the number of students who never learn another language.
C.H.: Here in the USA, tremendous resources are devoted to providing translating and interpreting services at the local, State and Federal level. For example, the written driving texts are available in some States in a variety of languages.
Do you believe that such a policy serves or harms the immigrants who need to acquire a good command of English in their adopted countries, such as the UK and the USA?
A.L.: In the U.K., many governmental administrative documents are translated into ethnic minority languages, such as Urdu, Pashtun and Arabic, but they are not often translated into the major European languages like French, Spanish, Italian, etc. In Wales, documents like election ballots are printed in both Welsh and English. I believe that all citizens have the right to access public services in a language that they can understand.
Language is just one part of the integration conundrum. True integration also requires social, cultural, educational and economic equality of opportunity.
C.H.:We live in a world where automation is taking away jobs in many fields. You have done some webinars. Do you foresee the webinar or the video conference as reducing the staff required by a university to replace conventional lectures or even international conferences?
A.L.: The webinars I’ve given have involved law or the business of translation. Here in the UK, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting runs a very successful online course called Setting up as a Freelance Translator, which covers 8 modules such as Breaking the No Experience Barrier, Using Social Media, Writing a Business Plan and Invoicing. My module is Getting Paid on Time.
I have also given webinars for eCPD Webinars. My most recent ones were on the subject of EU law.
Webinars allow people from all over the world to log on and learn new things. I don’t see webinars replacing universities or international conferences, though.
C.H.: What is your greatest challenge in legal translation?
A.L.: I never know what‘s coming next, what I will be translating from one job to the next. This makes my job interesting. To be a good translator, you have to have intellectual curiosity because you’ll be doing a lot of research. Translation requires more than just putting words down on paper. It requires having a wide breadth of knowledge about the topic.
C.H.: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A.L.: It’s very important to keep working on your core translation skills. Success in translation comes more from one’s abilities than from having a flashy website or a strong presence on social media.