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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translator Education  »   Corpus-based Teaching: The Use of Original and Translated Texts in the training of legal translators

Corpus-based Teaching: The Use of Original and Translated Texts in the training of legal translators

By Esther Monzo, Ph.D. | Published  06/10/2005 | Translator Education | Recommendation:
Esther Monzo, Ph.D.
Esther Monz Nebot teaches legal translation in the Department of Translation and Communication at University Jaume I of Castell. After finishing her degree in Translation and Interpreting in 1998, she taught Catalan, Spanish and Translation at the University of Cambridge (UK). She became a sworn translator and interpreter in 1999 and completed her PhD studies in translation at University Jaume I while freelancing as a legal and technical translator. In her PhD Dissertation she studied the legal translator in the Spanish context from a sociological perspective. She is now engaged in the research teams Gitrad ( and Gentt (, and she is a founding member of the Lextra study network, a group of scholars and professionals interested in the study of translation and the law.
Corpus-based Teaching: The Use of Original and Translated Texts in the training of legal translato
The initiative I am presenting here was introduced as part of legal translation training (English-Spanish/Catalan) at the Universitat Jaume I (Spain) in the academic years 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. The project was aimed at improving the training of future legal translators studying for their Degree in Translation and Interpreting. We wanted to foster a certain degree of autonomy in the documentation tasks on the part of the translator-to-be by developing a textual information resource consisting of an on-line database fed with original and translated legal documents and a search engine through which the retrieval of documents was based on textual classification criteria. In what follows I will deal with basic questions related to why this tool was needed in the classroom, why we chose to mix original and translated texts and why we chose to offer our own textual classification system. Moreover, I will suggest that this tool may also be used in professional translation practice by real translators in order to improve their efficiency.

Exposure Is Training

In other words, interaction is the means of enculturation in human communities. We learn to behave, or how to behave in particular situations, because we are exposed to the behaviour of others and, as far as texts are concerned, this principle is equally valid. Any translator has to produce a very specific type of text: translations. Their texts are, must be like and, sometimes, must sound like translations. There is nothing we can do to learn what translations are like other than study translated texts.

Sometimes, students imitate these solutions as a child would reproduce the way their parents speak.
In the translation classroom, texts are used so that trainees can learn those conventions applying to the original texts they have to translate. Both the original system and the target system are observed so that, in an English-Spanish course, we can learn how a sales agreement works both in English and Spanish. This way of proceeding seeks to develop a writing competence in translators so that they use the conventions which sound familiar to their audience in their own texts. Though very roughly explained, this is a well-known and widely-accepted methodology in translation training (Baker, 1992, Borja Albi, 2000, Hurtado Albir, 1995), which may nevertheless need to be altered when working with texts which are intended to be overt translations (Snell-Hornby, 1988). And this, as the professional knows, is often the case with legal translations.

Sometimes we must tell the reader 'this is a translation' so as to avoid making them think the Spanish rules are to be applied to an agreement signed in Great Britain. And this may happen if the agreement looks, sounds and feels like an original Spanish agreement. Such a reading may alter the interpretation of both the document and the intention pursued by the parties to it. In these cases, however, translators have their own strategies in order to mark (Hickey, 1998) the text, i.e. to give clues to the reader so that the reader may understand that the text being read, although written in Spanish, belongs to a different legal system. In this particular case of translation, there are also specific conventions the translator is bound by. An obvious consequence is that translators have to learn these conventions as a part of their profession, and the use of translations in the classroom is a very good tool which deserves our attention (Monzó Nebot, 2001).

However useful, allowing other people to see--not to mention to study--our translations is not an easy exercise of open-handedness and, as a result, the textual behaviour of our community becomes a secret know-how. In this situation, young and inexperienced translators have to work out on their own how to convey that necessary message to their readers, "How should I translate 'High Court of Justice' into Spanish so that my reader knows I am not talking about any Spanish court?" To think about such matters over and over again becomes nonsensical when we think of the number of people the world over who have at some time posed exactly the same questions, but this will be necessary as long as we refuse to show our work to trainees and peers. Under these circumstances, translation trainers are left with the role of fixing a whole community's rules of conduct or, if trainers do not want to impose individual criteria, we leave trainees with a heavy workload in learning the conventions of translated utterances.

Pursuing an Ideal

With a view to facilitating this process through which the translator-to-be learns the conventions a native (Toury, 1984) member of the translator's community would use in their texts, we started designing and developing a tool which allowed our students at the Universitat Jaume I to access such a valuable resource as original translations. The corpus we fed this tool with has been collected over the years by the trainers involved in the courses of legal translation at this university (Anabel Borja and Esther Monzó) and, when we finish dealing with copyright matters, it will be ready for access via web at

The corpus has been primarily selected according to teaching needs, and so the text types which may be found at this moment are those we work with in the classroom. However, the system developed ad hoc for classifying and retrieving documents embraces a wider range of documents so that our corpus can easily grow without forcing students to change their routine in searching for documents. In designing this triangulated system (text type, language and field) we took into account operational criteria so that the time devoted to the search did not exceed the time saved in documentation tasks, but it was also very important for us to specifically satisfy a translator's needs, so that the use of our tool may help our students develop both a textual and a thematic competence in legal translation. For the sake of example, to name texts or to connect them with other documentation tools such as law textbooks are important parts of the legal translator's daily activities and so tasks devoted to developing those skills are an important component in legal translation training. Also, with this classification system we want to further offer our students a routinized mechanism to easily store and retrieve texts they think may be useful in future briefs. We want them to use the corpus in order to acquire an organization system specifically aimed at covering translators' needs (not lawyers', as is often the case with the tools we normally use for legal documentation).

Bearing in mind these considerations, the project I am presenting here is aimed (1) at helping trainees develop documentation skills (from filing to retrieval) in an autonomous way, since they may choose to use the tool at any time in the process of translating, (2) at offering highly valuable material in the training of legal translators, and (3) at facilitating a tool for the professional practice of translation. Our document database furnishes students, translators, and researchers with original and translated legal texts in three languages (English, Catalan and Spanish) from various thematic fields and text types, in the form of a user-friendly database that may be easily consulted on line.

Query Examples

The web-surfing system is compatible with any conventional browser and the search and exploitation of the texts may respond to different queries. You may look for a specific expression or term in the corpus, or you may look for whatever texts are in the corpus corresponding to any genre or text type, thematic field, author, source, language, publication place or date and you may also specify whether you want to retrieve original or translated texts. Alternatively a complete list of the texts included may be obtained.

For instance, the texts from the field the translator is working with are a very important source of terminological information. With this system, translators looking for particular terminological units may access any term in the corpus, together with the text where the occurrence may be found and so they may connect textual and terminological data (such as phraseology and text type). In this way, textual structure, stylistic conventions, semantic progression, thematic, orthographic or typographic conventions, and also situational aspects may be looked for and learned.

Once the search parameters are introduced, we get a text, and we can access the translated version in any available language, which will appear in the other half of the window. If we looked for a translation in the first place, we can also access the original or a translation in another language in order to compare them. When we do, the central bar will allow us modify the dimensions of both parts of the window in order to make consulting the documents as easy and straightforward as possible.

The search option from our browser (Ctrl + F) will allow us look for particular sequences in any document. In this way, we can browse a text, search for, find, compare and study different elements in order to analyse, for instance, translation strategies so that we can follow current models for textual behaviour.

Final Remarks

In implementing the use of this tool, we have been able to observe the routinization of the documentation tasks in our students. As a consequence, the time devoted to these processes has been reduced and efficiency in translating activities has been increased. However, what we consider most interesting is that students feel much more confident in translating. To see what others have done before provides them with patterns and solutions accepted by clients and the market. Sometimes, students imitate these solutions as a child would reproduce the way their parents speak and, on other occasions, students weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of particular translating strategies and adapt them to the case at hand. Both attitudes are integral parts of a normal process of enculturation that, in this case, refers to the profession of the translator and thus our tools become both a source of textual information and a useful instrument in the training of future translators. In any event, we are now able to state that, both in the classroom and out of it, our students have improved their performance in legal translation.


Baker, Mona. 1992. In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation. Londres i Nova York: Routledge.

Borja Albi, Anabel. 2000. El texto jurídico inglés y su traducción al español. Barcelona: Ariel.

Hickey, Leo. 1998. Perlocutionary equivalence: Marking, exegesis and recontextualisation. In The Pragmatics of Translation, ed. Leo Hickey, 217-232. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Hurtado Albir, Amparo. 1995. La didáctica de la traducción. Evolución y estado actual. In Perspectivas de la traducción, eds. Purificación Fernández Nistal and J. M. Bravo Gozalo, 49-74. Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid.

Monzó Nebot, Esther. 2001. Textos jurídics i traduccions: testimonis de coneixements i eines de formació per al traductor jurídic. Revista de Llengua i Dret 36:23-40.

Snell-Hornby, Mary. 1988. Translation Studies. An integrated approach. Amsterdam y Filadelfia: John Benjamins.

Toury, Gideon. 1984. The notion of 'native translator' and translation teaching. In Die Theorie des Übersetzens und ihr Aufschlußwert für die Übersetzungs- und Dometschdidaktik, eds. Wolfram Wilss and Gisela Thome, 186-195. Tubinga: Narr

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