Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Property law for translators at City University, London

I treated myself to a 4-day intensive course from 10 to 13 June focusing on the terminology and translation of property documents. It was run by the City University in London, actually as part of the MA in Legal Translation, yet also open to other translators keen to add property law knowledge and translation practice in this field to their CPD portfolio.

First of all, because of the 2-day London Underground strike action, which had brought almost all tube services to a halt on the evening of my arrival, I found myself walking from Victoria to Islington, where the university is located. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, which surprisingly took me just about an hour and 40 minutes. Walking (or alternatively cycling) usually in fact is my preferred option of getting from A to B when the distance is manageable. (And is not one of the nicest aspects about working from home that you hardly ever have to go by car? Some translators do not to even have to own a car because of that.)

City University London

In the Wednesday and Thursday workshops, Richard Delaney explained and illustrated the key principles relevant in property law as it applies in England and Wales, whereas the afternoon sessions were dedicated to comparative document analyses. What among other illustrative materials that we looked at was quite interesting was a comparison of two stylistically contrasting assured shorthold tenancy agreements. The first text drafted in plain English, with all the typical features such as plain syntax and less use of legalese, turned out to be actually more difficult to navigate. As for its substantive content, it provided more room for disputes or less legal certainty than the second text, which was drafted in traditional legal English. It was also pointed out to us that, in terms of drafting techniques, there is a noticeable tendency in German contracts to provide in express terms that certain things are allowed. This is because in the German legal culture prohibitions are assumed to apply to the subject matter in need of contractual regulation. By contrast, this works exactly the other way round in English contracts.

The Friday lectures for those of us working with German were given by Dr. Mike Wienbracke LL.M.. He presented us with a summarised, yet at the same time very detailed and excellent overview of German property law. We also looked at the structure of relevant documents, such as a property sales contract, a gift deed, a will, an inheritance deed etc., as well as noteworthy concepts and typical language contained in them.

On Saturday, we continued with hands-on sessions concerned with the translation of property documents. The English to German course was run by Angela Sigee, and with her help we put our newly acquired knowledge into practice. It was noted that in the translation of land law-related documents especially, it tends to be tricky to deal with the pervasive incongruence of the two legal systems involved. The translation exercises also were a goldmine of translation techniques, workaround solutions and other useful tips that Angela had in store for us to take home.

At the end, we all went away armed with new knowledge, skills and confidence, ready to sink our teeth into translation projects in this field that might come up at some point in the future.