Dual French/English Contracts Workshop

On Thursday 30th November, I joined forces with specialist French contracts translator Danaë Hosek-Ugolini to give a workshop at the offices of ITI in Milton Keynes about contract translations from French into English and vice versa.

Laura Elvin has written the following review of the workshop, published in the December edition of Au Courant.

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Dual French/English contracts workshop
On 30th November, I attended the Dual French/English Contracts Workshop at ITI’s headquarters in Milton Keynes. Despite the chilly weather, we were given the usual warm welcome by Ann Brooks and her Professional Development team.

Our trainers were Andrew Leigh and Danaë Hosek-Ugolini, both of whom have extensive experience in legal translation, spanning several languages between them, although the day’s workshop was focussed exclusively on French and English. The participants were a mix of French-English and English-French translators, some with and some without a legal background, with a few agency representatives in attendance also.

The morning began with a bilingual presentation, Andrew speaking in English for his part of the slides and Danaë in French for hers, which certainly kept us on our toes! Each theme was dealt with in parallel, comparing and contrasting the two jurisdictions, many of the differences arising from the fact that English contract law is, to a large extent, judge-made whereas French law is codified. Topics covered included the fundamental elements of a contract, the various types of contract that might be encountered and the structure of a typical contract, with an exercise to test our knowledge on some common “boilerplate” (standard) clauses.

We also touched on the interpretation of contracts and it was interesting to note that, in the event of a dispute, an English court will be more concerned with the precise contractual wording than a French court, which looks more at the intention.

This was followed by a more detailed look at some particular challenges that can arise when translating contracts, such as the use of archaisms, tenses, active and passive structures, noun and verb phrases, ways of expressing obligations and prohibitions in each language and, of course, technical terms. Beautifully colour-coded handouts provided concrete examples of all of these!

After a tasty lunch and a chance to mingle, we split up into a French-English room and an English-French room for some practical sessions. First, we were given a contract which had been deliberately translated badly and, working in small groups, were asked to improve it. We found we were instantly able to put into practice some of the things we had learnt during the morning’s session. Then it was time to look at the “homework” we had been set in advance, which was to translate two contracts of different types. We discussed our translations clause by clause in our small groups, under the supervision of Andrew and Danaë, and were really able to tackle some knotty issues in depth, although inevitably we ran out of time to discuss absolutely everything!

I found every aspect of the workshop to be excellent, thanks to Andrew and Danaë’s thorough preparation, the quality of the materials they produced for us and the ITI’s efficient organisation. Thank you for a stimulating and enjoyable day!

Laura Elvin
Laura Elvin, AITI, has a BA in Modern Languages and is a qualified solicitor. After 18 years working in a major law firm, she completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Translation and left legal practice to become a full-time freelance French to English legal translator. She operates under the trading name Themis Translations and can be contacted at laura@themislegaltrans.co.uk