About the Video

Spanish Legal Translation: Common Law vs. Civil Law – theory and practice

What English to Spanish translators need to know about the Common Law and the Civil Law Traditions and about the complexities of translating between both systems, in two modules on demand

Legal systems throughout the world generally fall into one of two main categories: Common Law and Civil Law. Approximately 80 countries fall into what can be described as primarily Common Law systems, while 150 countries fall into Civil Law systems–and out of those 150 countries, 21 speak Spanish.

In light of these numbers, English to Spanish legal translation is of massive importance. For it not only connects the two dominant legal traditions, but also the second and third most spoken languages on Earth (i.e. Spanish and English, respectively).

MODULE 1 – Common Law vs. Civil Law

English to Spanish translators are wise to choose legal translation as their area of specialization. However, legal translation poses unique challenges that separate it from other areas of translation. Unlike technical or medical translation (where the issue is subject-matter complexity, but not necessarily lack of linguistic equivalency), legal translation presents the challenge of working with legal constructions and conventions for which there are often no linguistic equivalents across systems. And, unlike literary translation (where translators are allowed to creatively work around untranslatable words), legal translation comes with the responsibility of being extremely faithful to source while achieving renditions that don’t read like translations.

Navigating these often-treacherous waters requires profound knowledge of these two legal traditions. Therefore, in the first module we take a broad and introductory look at Common Law in the US and UK in comparison to Civil Law in Spain and Latin America. Participants will learn what characterizes each system and, more importantly, where and how to continue to learn about the law in order to hone their legal translation skills.

MODULE 2 – Spanish Legal Translation Workshop

In the second module, the audience members have the opportunity to test and further develop their skills. We’ll look at specific problem words for which there may not be linguistic equivalency across systems and work together to develop a method for solving them.

After watching this series, the audience will not only have a better understanding of some of the key differences between legal systems and how that affects translation but will also have a set of tools for overcoming translation challenges when faced with them.


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Paula Arturo

Paula is a lawyer, translator, and former law professor. Throughout her seventeen-year career, she has translated several law books and publications in major international journals for high-profile authors, including the works of Nobel Prize Laureates and renowned jurists. She is an independent lawyer-linguist for the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process of several Latin American states, as well as a legal-linguistic consultant for various international organisations. She is a co-creator of Translating Lawyers, a boutique firm specialising in legal translation by lawyers for lawyers. She is currently serving a two-year term as Administrator of the American Translators Association’s Literary Division, Co-head of Legal Affairs at the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters and member of the Public Policies Forum of the Supreme Court of Argentina.


Module 1: 1 hour 11 min

Module 2: 1 hour 12 min

Who should watch it?

English to Spanish translators who need to know about the Common Law and the Civil Law Traditions and about the complexities of translating between both systems.

What are the benefits to you?

After watching the videos, you will have knowledge of the differences between systems in Latin America and Spain, and those of the UK and the US. You will also have practised what you learned in the second module.

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