Mandarin Chinese and Korean Translations in Arbitration

An Arbitration Notice in Mandarin or Korean? You Need a Legal Translator!

Multilingual translation and interpreting services for lawyers matter in any type of litigation. But when it comes to international arbitration, legal translation matters a lot. Indeed, it is common in international arbitrations to have the parties speaking two different languages, such as Mandarin Chinese and Korean, and the relevant documents to be in even more languages.

Those who have a single-language background and limited experience with international matters can sometimes underestimate the types of language issues that can arise in international arbitrations. Yet, there are many stumbling blocks that come up with regard to language and, at times, a language issue can be outcome-determinative in an international arbitration proceeding.

When the stakes are so high, you need to know that you have legal language translation professionals helping you through the process. Given that language is so vital in the international arbitration setting, you would be wise to retain the services of an experienced legal translation service that can give you “soup to nuts” coverage with regard to spoken and written translations. Indeed, a legal translation service you can trust gives you and your firm peace of mind that the highly technical, legal documents will be translated accurately the first time. All Language Alliance, Inc. is the service you need. We invite you to discuss your translation needs at 303-470-9555.

If your client is, or you are employed by, a multi-national company, chances are that you may experience an international arbitration in China or South Korea. Both locations have become well-known hubs for international arbitrations. Notably, the language nuances between English and Chinese, or English and Korean are significant. This article points out, through two examples, some common language pitfalls with regard to the Chinese and Korean languages.

An Arbitration Notice Ignored, and a Judgment Lost – CEEG v. LUMOS (2016)

Sometime the best way to learn a lesson is to see examples where mistakes were made. Consider CEEG (Shanghai) Solar Sci. & Tech. Co. v. LUMOS LLC, a 2016 case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, Colorado.

In that arbitration before the Shanghai International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, the Chinese company CEEG won an arbitral judgment. That was largely because the responding company, LUMOS, was not in attendance. Apparently, CEEG notified LUMOS of the arbitration by a letter written in Chinese.

Previous to the notice, the parties’ past communications were in English, and the agreement between the parties specified that any proceedings should be in English. Once CEEG tried to enforce its arbitral judgment in a U.S. District Court, the U.S. court denied enforcement. The court determined that LUMOS was not properly notified because the notice of arbitration was in Chinese, not English.

On appeal, the 10th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s denial. The reason provided was that the letter in Chinese was “not reasonably calculated” to alert LUMOS of the arbitration, particularly given that English was the language in which the parties typically communicated. Although, LUMOS was aware that the letter in Chinese was a notice of arbitration, LUMOS did not have sufficient time to retain Chinese counsel to represent LUMOS in time for the arbitration.

In sum, the time and expense of the Shanghai arbitration was entirely wasted because CEEG did not use the proper language in its initial notice.

Linguistic Pitfalls When Working with Witnesses: When “Yes” May Mean “No”

In a recent arbitration between parties from South Korea, Singapore, and Russia, witness testimony from a Korean witness exemplifies major language issues.

It is typical with Korean speakers who are faced with a question to literally confirm the accuracy of a statement or question. Yet, English speakers will often confirm the substantive accuracy of the statement or question.

Take for example the question, “You don’t drive?” An English speaker may oftentimes answer by saying “No” (meaning “I don’t drive”) thereby confirming the substance of the question, that the witness does not drive a car. By contrast, a Korean speaker may answer the question literally with a “Yes” (confirming that it is true “I don’t drive”). The witness does not drive a car in both cases, but based on culture and language, the witness may answer the question entirely differently.

As another example, a Korean witness may begin the answer to a question by first indicating that he or she understands the question, with a simple “Yes,” and then go on to answer the question. So, take the question, “Did you hit the victim?” A Korean witness may answer “Yes. No. I was spending time with a friend.” Now the arbitrator is left confused as to whether the witness did or did not hit the victim.

In sum, Korean witnesses who are not fluent in English must have a very experienced Korean to English interpreter. Korean law firms, in fact, insist that Korean witnesses use an interpreter, even if the witness speaks English fairly well.

How to Smooth Out the Linguistic Challenges with Professional Legal Translation Services

The stakes are high with international arbitrations. Usually, a great pool of money is at stake. Similarly, it is very possible to have a domestic litigation matter in which the other party is from China or South Korea. In either situation, having a reliable, knowledgeable legal translation service in your corner is vital.

Our experienced legal interpreters for international arbitration in London, the United Kingdom, Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, the U.S. and other countries around the globe interpret from English to Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Cantonese, and other languages, in person, by Zoom video conference, and over the phone. Our arbitration hearing interpreters and translators are also available for remote arbitration hearings. Our team of professional legal translators provides the highest quality translations for legal documents written in Simplified Chinese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, or any other language.  Contact us today by filling out the “Hire a Certified Translator or Interpreter” form on the right side of the page.

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