Sunday, October 17, 2021

A spotlight on English to Hebrew legal translation – an interview with Adv. Yael Segal


It is often illuminating to get an opposite perspective on any matter. As I translate from Hebrew to English, I was curious to know it looked from the other side. I posed several questions relevant to translation and learning translation to Adv. Yael Segal, an experienced English to Hebrew legal translator as well as teacher of translation. In terms of background, she studied law and psychology in Tel Aviv University, interned in Shibboleth law firm, was admitted to the Israeli Bar in 2011 and has been translating ever since.  She teaches legal translation in Beit Berl College and Versio Academy. She lives in Herzliya with her partner and 3 boys.

1.  What would you consider a proper background to be a legal translator into Hebrew (aside from a law degree)?

I think that anybody can be a legal translator. I even teach it (at Beit Berl) for that reason. Legal language appears daunting but once you learn how to recognize it, it no longer seems impossible. Some students break through that barrier as early as the second lesson. However, it should be noted it requires serious investment, especially to those that do not have any legal background (which is not limited to a law degree and may be attained in other ways). Ultimately, I learned legal translation as I learned English: I simply read a tremendous amount. In my opinion, a person that wants to enter this field and has the analytic ability will succeed.

2.  What are some specific challenges translating English to Hebrew legal material?


First and foremost - terminology. There are many words in English without an equivalent in Hebrew or whose equivalent terms is not exactly the same. For example, think about how many words there are in English to say lien or mortgage. In Hebrew there are barely two words, שעבוד [sha’avud] and משכון [mishkun]. I would love to meet an Israeli attorney that could tell the difference between them. Another related challenge is the difference in the legal systems. An equivalent concept does not always exist. Furthermore, Hebrew has no capital letters and thus cannot emphasize terms using them. Sometimes it in necessary to find creative solutions.


3. What are some mistakes that distinguish a poor legal translator from a proficient one?


In general, bad translators produce a text that I cannot understand despite my significant experience reading legal material. They stick too closely to the English text, ignoring the actual meaning. Although the material is legal, it is sometimes necessary to change a word or two to render the material readable. Many attorneys think that English syntax creates a higher register. For example, they write In Hebrew that “the document will be signed by the company.” I do not agree. As I see it, the Hebrew should read: “the company will sign the document.”


Furthermore, there are translators that believe that it is possible to find everything in the dictionary and simply translate the word without understanding the legal terminology. As a result, we see jewels like “capitalized terms” translated into Hebrew literally as “conditions involving capital”, תנאים מהוונים [tnaim mehuvanim], instead of defined terms מונחים מוגדרים [munachim mugdarim] or “prejudice” into the Hebrew prejudgment דעה קדומה [deya kduma] instead of the Hebrew word for damage, נזק [nezeq].


4.  In regards to the issue of agencies vs end clients, which do you prefer and why?

I have no preference. Agencies pay well, have your back if there are problems with the customers, treat me nicely and provide me with interesting material just as do private customers, who pay well, treat me nice and provide me with interesting material. I will not work with an agency that is not appropriate for me nor will I work with such a customer. I have no problem giving an agency a percentage of my charge as an agency fee if it is worthwhile for me.

5.  What advice would you give a customer seeking translation of legal document into Hebrew?


Ask for a sample, paid or free. Choose on the base of recommendations, not the lowest price. Provide translators with as much background as possible. If there is specific terminology, let them know in advance. Finally, of course, pay on time.

Taking into her broad background, specifically law practice, translation and teaching, her answers emphasize that legal translators require thorough understanding of both law and language. The attainment of these skills requires significant investment of time. This point is vital importance to prospective and current translators as well as purchasers of legal translation. I wish to thank Yael ( for shining light on this specialization and wish her and future English-Hebrew translators success.

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