What happens in the case where the two parties in a contract do not have a language in common?

For example, the buyer of a house speaks English, and the seller is Afrikaans and doesn't speak English at all. They both need to know and understand what they're signing, so I imagine that there needs to be two contract translations?

If that's the case, how does either party know the translation is correct, especially since contracts are drawn up and interpreted very differently from other normal written stuff.

(The above example scenario is my own - I'm the English buyer in this case)

2 Answers 2


There are basically two choices: pick a language, or use both. If you use both (the contract includes versions in both languages), you also need to anticipate the possibility that the versions are not absolutely identical, in which case a specified version prevails. Either approach requires hiring a good legal translator, and the bilingual contract approach is harder and more expensive. For ZA, the situation may be substantially mitigated, since real estate contracts are usually standard forms with blanks to fill in, and it is likely that professional versions are available in English and Afrikaans. There are sworn legal translators who are competent to create correct translations. Neither party can really know with certainty that the translation is correct, but they would have a reasonable basis for believing that it is: assuming that you have a sworn translation. (You might toggle languages on the above web page to see the problem with translation into other languages).

  • If a translation is done by a "sworn legal translator," does the translator assume some liability for disputes related to their translation?
    – feetwet
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 15:44
  • Based on SATI's statement "by stamping and signing it they accept liability for the accuracy of the translation", I assume so.
    – user6726
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 16:14

They both need to know and understand what they're signing, so I imagine that there needs to be two contract translations?

The best practice is to only have one "official"/signed contract in only one translation. The other party can read a translated version and sign the original.

If you have two executed versions of a contract, each with a different translations, it raises some serious issues that you alluded to in your question:

  • What country's law are you going to use?
  • No translation is perfect, so how do you resolve issues with the translation?
  • Did we really have an "agreement" or meeting of the minds?
  • If not, is the contract enforceable?

Again, the best practice is to only have translation being the "official version" and have all parties sign it.

The ABA has a really good article discussing the issues and consideration with translated contracts: http://www.americanbar.org/publications/gp_solo/2011/april_may/drafting_multiple-languagecontractswhenyouonlyspeakenglish.html

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