The Importance of Cultural Understanding in Legal Translation

The Importance of Cultural Understanding in Legal Translation

Legal translation is a very specialised type of translation service. Any translation is challenging, but legal translation requires the translator to have an additional understanding of legal terminology and legal systems on top of linguistic and cultural skills. An already challenging job is further complicated by the requirement to understand the culture of the country, market or jurisdiction they are operating in. Legal translators possess a very particular set of skills different from other translators, including a comprehensive knowledge of how cultural values might impact the legal documents they are translating. This article looks at the important role that cultural understanding plays in legal translations.

The art of translating culture

One of the key competencies for legal translators is intercultural competence in a legal context. Here, intercultural competence is the skill of understanding not only the legal system, but the legal system as part of wider society. Fundamentally, the law is created and evolves in line with societal values. As society evolves, so too must the laws by which society is governed.  But what does this mean for legal translators? 

Legal translators must be familiar with the political and social customs of a particular country, region, or locale as well as how they play out in the law. Every word and every sentence a translator uses must be absolutely precise, which means that they must be able to decide on the meaning of every sentence contextually. Really, what this comes down to is being able to understand the real meaning of a phrase - not simply what its literal translation is. The translator must then be able to draft their translation in a way that conveys precisely the same meaning, which makes sense in the target language. Only a translator with such intercultural competency can provide a high-level, accurate legal translation. 

The importance of cultural understanding for business relationships 

We regularly assist law firms with many practice areas related to business, including banking, dispute resolution, intellectual property, private equity, real estate, and litigation. As a result, we routinely see how important cultural understanding is in developing strong business relationships. Closing a deal can be challenging at the best of times, but when you fail to respect the cultural aspects of how another party does business, this can have disastrous consequences. Here are some examples of cultural differences across business regions. 


If you have clients looking to work in the Japanese market, nuanced and precise Japanese legal translations are essential. Your translations must not only be accurate, but must also navigate the complex system of honorifics contained within the language and convey the polite tone for which Japanese culture is well-known correctly. Without such attention to detail, you could come across as rude or disrespectful. 


The Chinese favour harmonious communications without hard selling or confrontation, and place great weight on relationships. If you are working with clients in China, it is essential that you take great care to ensure the right tone and approach in your commercial law communications. All of our Chinese legal translators are native speakers and understand how Chinese people build business relationships. 


At the opposite end of the spectrum is Danish culture, where the people like to get straight to the point. Danes generally prefer direct and candid communication with great attention to detail. Only a translator with a comprehensive understanding of Danish culture can ensure that your translations are direct, without being stand-offish. 

Family relationships

In the same way that business relationships are built differently across different cultures, so too are family relationships. Different cultures favour different family models and hierarchy, which can make the translation of family law documents particularly complicated. Our specialist translators can provide exceptional translation services whilst correctly interpreting the meaning behind sensitive matters including financial settlement documents. 

Contact IMD Translation

At IMD Translation, we are pleased to offer fast, reliable and accurate translation services to UK professional service firms. All of our translators are highly qualified in legal translation. They have a native understanding of the language and in-depth comprehension of the regions they work in. We can help you with matters related to family law, commercial law, personal injury, immigration, intellectual property, probate and criminal law.

Contact us today to get a quote for your legal translation services.