3 Examples Where Bad Translation Caused Problems

For those who are multilingual, mother tongue still influences how the things are interpreted or presented in any other language.  We don’t even know when we make assumptions based on own culture or the language without taking into account other culture, attitudes, and expressions. Sometimes these little or not so significant assumptions can make or break a legal case or a business deal. It’s where legal document translation services are necessary.


The Canadian Superior Court Justice Anthony Hill declared a mistrial in the sexual assault case of defendant Vishnu Dutt Sharma (An Indian citizen working in Canada on a work visa). And guess what the reason was. The court interpreter mistranslated phrases in the victim’s testimony. He translated “sexual assault” as “physical assault,” “genital area” as “between the legs” and “two days” as “a couple of weeks.” The judge assessed the translations to be poor and also found them to be prejudicial to the defendant as they stopped him from a “full linguistic presence on his trial.”


In California, Judge H. Tierman dismissed homicide charges against Cathy Mendoza. He noticed that certified court translators had mistranslated the testimony of Spanish-speaking witnesses. He said, “Justice can’t be done if the jury does not have the proper information in front of them.”

Courts rely on interpreters to translate the testimony, but there are many obstacles. They have to translate accurately and quickly, but sometimes errors creep in.


Peter Uiberall, chief interpreter of the Nuremberg trials, noticed many instances of the word “yes” in Nuremberg transcripts. He later noted that translators had made the mistake of translating the word “ja” as “yes.” Although “ja” means “yes,” it is often used as a placeholder or “discourse maker” in German conversations. It is equivalent to the American “um” or “well.” The word “yes” of course can redefine the meaning of the witnesses’ testimony.

Thus the translations do have an effect on the trials. The attorneys lose some control over the pacing of the witness examination. Mistrials may also result from translators who only do the job of summarizing questions and responses rather than giving verbatim reports.

These are only a few examples, and there are many existing around the world. When you are dealing with international legal cases, you deal with people who speak a different language but also have very different legal procedures.  It is where legal document translation services prove to be useful. You can reach us at – 888-670-3369 and we’ll ensure that you don’t face any problems.

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