World Law Dictionary


English may be the common language of the world, but the Common Law is not the common law of the world.

That’s why, in a unique project, TransLegal has teamed up with leading law schools from around the world to create an online multilingual law dictionary linking the world’s legal languages in a single database.

EN
HU
BR
DE
PL
CN
CO
NO
IT
TR
EN
HU
BR
DE
PL
CN
CO
NO
IT
TR

Leading universities

Some of the world’s leading law faculties have joined together to create an online database of legal terminology, all linked to a single English dictionary of law.

Translations of key legal terms

Starting in 2020, the World Law Dictionary will provide accurate and reliable translations into English of the essential legal terms in ten languages and more languages will be added every year.

Extensive comparative law notes

Unique and valuable notes produced by university scholars and experienced lawyers to help you understand and explain subtle differences between your legal concepts and their English equivalents.

Straightforward definitions

Definitions of English legal concepts that are clear and easy to understand, written at an intermediate level and designed especially for non-native speakers of English.

Audio and video files

Over 30,000 audio files to help you pronounce the English legal concepts and listening exercises to help you improve your listening skills in English.

Database of language resources

The world’s largest database of language resources for learning Legal English all linked to the World Law Dictionary.


Our university partners

We are proud to be working with some of the
world’s leading law schools.

Meet our Team

Michael G. Lindner

Founder and CEO, TransLegal
Editor, Swedish dictionary

Thomas Mann

Vice President, TransLegal
Editor, German dictionary

David Kellermann

Entrepreneur
Kellermann Group
Apstec Systems
ZAO Parvomayskaya Zarya
Melon Fashion Group

Matt Firth

Production Manager, British lawyer-linguist, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland
Editor English dictionary


TradJuris

Brazilian legal language service boutique
Editor, Brazilian dictionary

Jennifer Howitt

British lawyer-linguist, lawyer
Editor, Chinese dictionary

Zsolt György Balogh

Associate professor at the Department for Information and Communications Technology of the Corvinus University of Budapest
Chief Academic Advisor

Dr. Tímea Kovács

Hungarian lawyer-linguist, Legal English tutor, university lecturer
Editor, Hungarian dictionary

IURIDICO

Polish legal and financial translation services firm
Editor, Polish dictionary

Legaltrans

Norwegian translation services company
Editor, Norwegian dictionary

Dr. Hüseyin Can Aksoy

Turkish lawyer, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Law and co-director of Bilkent’s Law and Economics Implementation and Research Center
Editor, Turkish Dictionary

Bruno Vieira

Legal Consultant. Former resident translator and interpreter for the Office of the Brazilian Prosecutor General´s Office. Holds a master in Law and Public Policy.    
Editor, Brazilian dictionary

Aim of the project

The overall aim of the project is to create the world’s best and largest multilingual law dictionary.

The World Law Dictionary Project is a partnership between TransLegal and leading law faculties around the world. The final product will be an online law dictionary which allows users to search in at least 20 languages for English translations of the legal terms in their languages. The English law terms which are provided as translations will be linked to TransLegal’s extensive and ever-growing database of English language materials, providing for each term sound files for pronunciation, usage notes, example sentences and language exercises and videos, thus making the World Law Dictionary a unique and powerful legal language tool.

Launch calendar of our dictionaries:

  • World Law Dictionary Hungary – Available now!
  • World Law Dictionary Germany – Available now!
  • World Law Dictionary China – Available now!
  • World Law Dictionary Brazil – Available now!
  • World Law Dictionary Poland – Available now!
  • World Law Dictionary Norway – Available now!
  • World Law Dictionary Austria – Spring 2021
  • World Law Dictionary Quebec – Spring 2021
  • World Law Dictionary Switzerland – Spring 2021
  • World Law Dictionary Italy – July 2021
  • World Law Dictionary Japan – July 2021
  • World Law Dictionary Colombia – July 2021
  • World Law Dictionary Turkey – July 2021

Need for the dictionary

Academics in the field of law and linguistics have complained for decades about the shortage of good bilingual legal dictionaries [1] pointing out that legal publishers are reluctant to spend the time or money required to produce a good legal dictionary [2]. These scholars have written extensively on the shortcomings of multilingual legal dictionaries, often concluding that most of them are mere word lists of dubious quality [3].

TransLegal and its university partners believe that in this era of international trade and commerce the world needs a large and sophisticated online multilingual law dictionary in which the many legal languages of the world are linked in a single law dictionary to the lingua franca of international business, English.

This is why we are now creating a single online database, which will allow users to engage in discussions of the meanings and consequences of legal terms in their languages and jurisdictions based on a common work. For example, a Chinese lawyer representing a Chinese client entering into a distribution agreement in Hungary would be able to gain an understanding of Hungarian legal concepts in a discussion with local Hungarian counsel as these concepts are defined in the World Law Dictionary in English with the essential benefit that his own Chinese legal concepts would also be translated, defined and compared with English in the same dictionary, thus making possible a comparison of the Hungarian and Chinese legal concepts relevant to these lawyers.

Obviously, each country has its own laws and legal concepts (legal terminology), many of which cannot be translated into English by simply using “equivalent” Anglo-American legal terminology. Yet business persons around the globe must understand the laws of the countries in which they do business. Thus, the lawyers who help them navigate these local laws must be equipped with language their clients and in-house counsel can understand.

As English legal terminology becomes more widely used internationally, the meanings of English legal terms become more established both in international commercial practice as well as in judicial decisions. This widespread use and stability, in turn, makes it easier for international business people and public servants to choose English when drafting agreements and other legal documents and harder to choose any other language. By thoroughly defining the legal terms of other languages and comparing them to English, these legal terms become clearer and more understandable and therefore easier for international parties to accept. Consequently, this dictionary would also have the benefit of strengthening the many legal languages of the world.

The World Law Dictionary is guided by the following lexicographical principles:

  1. The legal languages of the world should track the lingua franca of the business world: English. A multilingual dictionary of law should serve as a linguistic bridge that ensures accurate communication between speakers of different languages.
  2. The dictionary should not only provide translations of foreign legal language terms into English and vice versa (communicative purpose), but also include a comparative law analysis that reveals the degree of functional equivalence between the foreign legal concept and the Anglo-American legal concept (cognitive purpose).
  3. The dictionary should provide references to relevant sources of law and linguistic context, which clearly identifies the legal systems of the source and target languages (e.g., whether US versus UK, or German versus Austrian).
  4. Where the foreign legal term or concept has no functional counterpart in English, then this fact should be clearly stated and a new term should be created in English (neologism) based on a uniform descriptive system. Such neologisms should be identified as such to avoid confusion.
  5. A multilingual dictionary of law should use a single, baseline language to explain, and a single analytical method to compare, critical legal terms and concepts of different countries.
  6. The quality of the English entries should be vetted and guaranteed by a team of experienced lawyer-linguists, who have practiced law in various Anglo-American jurisdictions, developed legal English courses with prestigious academic institutions and have worked extensively in the legal translation industry and by legal practitioners and academics in those foreign language jurisdictions who confront those Anglo-American legal terms and concepts in their everyday work. The source of the entries should also rely on the state-of-the-art software that ranks and quantifies word searches.
  7. The quality of the foreign language entries, the translations and the comparative law notes on functional equivalency should be guaranteed through the scholarship of leading foreign law faculties.
  8. The dictionary should be written specifically for its primary users: non-native speakers of English; e.g., at a B2 level on the Council of Europe’s CEFR scale.
  9. The dictionary should be online and easily searchable using the latest technology.
  10. The dictionary of law should have sub-field classifications and filtering options.
  11. The dictionary of law should serve as a training platform to teach visitors to the site on how to use the English legal terms through online language exercises and learning materials.
  12. The dictionary should continue to evolve over the years, and should be continuously updated and improved to track changes in the laws and legal systems.
  13. The dictionary should provide the opportunity for lawyers and law students around the world to contribute their expertise on particular entries through “wiki” functionality.

[1] Gerard-René de Groot & Conrad J.P. van Laer, The Dubious Quality of Legal Dictionaries, 34 Int’l J. Legal Info. 65, 65 (2006); Dennis C. Kim-Prieto, En la tierra del ciego, el tuerco es rey: Problems with Current English-Spanish Legal Dictionaries, and Notes toward a Critical Comparative Legal Lexicography in Law Library Journal (2008).
[2] Dennis C. Kim-Prieto & Conrad J.P. van Laer, The Possible Dream: Perfecting Bilingual Law Dictionaries by Distinguishing Better Examples from Bad, International Journal of Legal Information; Summer2011, Vol. 39 Issue 2, page 12.
[3] Gerard-René de Groot & Conrad J.P. van Laer, The Quality of Legal Dictionaries, an assessment, Maastricht Faculty of Law Working Paper 2008/6, page 9.

Background

TransLegal has been producing the world’s leading Legal English materials for over 25 years (see below) and recently launched a new platform which provides access to our online database of Legal English resources through a powerful search function. The online service makes it possible for the user to search for an English legal term which produces results in the form of relevant materials from TransLegal’s online law dictionary, online language exercises, videos and sound recordings, and other Legal English materials. These materials are designed for non-native speakers of English and are at a B2 level on the Council of Europe’s CEFR scale. TransLegal now plans to further expand this search tool by introducing local language functionality. This will allow the user to search legal terms in his/her own language and to obtain results in the form of English legal terms which are a translation of the local language term or an English legal term closely related to it. It will thus be a powerful online multilingual law dictionary and even more since, not only will the user get a translation of the local term, he/she will also have access to explanations of the English legal concept related to it, as well as common usage mistakes, recordings for pronunciation, language exercises for training, etc.

How the project works

In a unique programme of partnerships with universities around the world, TransLegal is making its database of Legal English materials available free of charge on a permanent basis to the students and faculty of the partner universities. As a part of their legal education, selected students under the supervision of faculty at the cooperating university will produce local language materials, including translations into their local language of the Legal English terms searchable in TransLegal’s database and, where appropriate, annotations explaining differences between the legal terms and systems. TransLegal has already entered into cooperation agreements with several universities and discussions are underway with several others.

Benefits to the university

The benefits to the university are several. Firstly, the law faculty will be forever identified with the world’s leading and largest dictionary of law and will be the only law faculty so associated for its language. Secondly, this law dictionary will be an important contribution to the local language and its legal terminology. Through the academic work carried out in producing the dictionary, a greater understanding will be obtained by the users of the dictionary throughout the world of the legal terminology and legal system of each participating country thus facilitating cross-border commerce. Thirdly, the partner university will receive world-class, online teaching materials free of charge for permanent use by all of the students and faculty of the university.

Benefits to the student authors

The students who participate in this project at each partner university will receive a valuable education in comparative legal terminology – essential skills in their future career in the law. Equally as important, these students will be forever credited as contributing authors of the world’s foremost multilingual dictionary for law, an invaluable merit when seeking future employment. Finally, over the course of their work on the project, they will have an opportunity to interact on a professional basis with other law students, lawyers and faculty around the world and to form professional contacts in their law career. Towards this end, TransLegal is setting up a World Law Dictionary Authors’ Network with pages on both LinkedIn and TransLegal’s site where students will be able ask and answer questions about comparative legal terminology and also create lifelong contacts in the international legal community. This is a unique opportunity for students who are planning a law career with international aspects.

Participating parties

  • TransLegal Since its founding in 1989, TransLegal has been producing the highest quality Legal English training materials for the international legal community. These materials include, among other things
    • two leading course books published by Cambridge University Press;
    • the International Legal English Certificate (ILEC) exam produced by TransLegal in cooperation with Cambridge University, Cambridge Assessments;
    • a blended learning Legal English course in cooperation with the Boston University School of Law and Cambridge University Press (PLEAD);
    • online Legal English training courses;
    • a Legal English dictionary; and
    • Legal English online testing.
  • Universities TransLegal enters into a cooperation agreement with the law faculty of one leading university for each language with the exception being cases where there are variations of a language (e.g. Austrian German or Quebec French) in which case TransLegal enters into a cooperation agreement with a law faculty in this other country as well. The work in translating the English legal terms in the local language and producing helpful practice notes will be done by the law faculty and/or law students at the university under the supervision of a faculty member.
  • Native English-speaking lawyer translators Where required, TransLegal will provide the services of its in-house lawyer-linguists and/or retain the services of third-party lawyer-translators to assist the university in its work in translating the English legal terms into the local language.

Description of English language content

TransLegal Dictionary

TransLegal’s Learner’s Dictionary of Law is the only dictionary of law designed specifically to help lawyers and law students working in English as a second language. Native English-speaking lawyers often use an English law dictionary differently than lawyers who are non-native speakers of English. Lawyers for whom English is a second language often need to know how to use the word in a sentence, how to pronounce the word, what common mistakes to avoid (e.g. false friends) and the most common collocations (= words that go with the word looked up, such as file a lawsuit or grant an appeal). TransLegal’s Law Dictionary has been designed with these specific needs in mind. The TransLegal Learner’s Dictionary of Law is the product of thousands of hours of on-going research carried out by an expert team of lawyer-linguists. Every term included in the TransLegal Learner’s Dictionary of Law has been thoroughly researched to ensure that the definitions reflect current usage. Each definition has been graded so that it can be understood by intermediate-level speakers of English. Where more complex language has been unavoidable in the definitions, this language has been defined in parentheses. Corpora such as the British National Corpus, the Corpus of Contemporary American Language and onecle.com’s collection of legal documents were referred to for the phrase bank entries, providing a selection of examples of contemporary usage together with common collocations. Corpora, legal texts and authoritative guides to contemporary usage (e.g. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage) were referred to when developing the additional notes and common errors sections, together with examples and illustrations collected by TransLegal’s lawyer-linguists during their teaching and materials development.

Exercises

Our exercises feature a range of task types designed to train the essential vocabulary of law. The tasks also help lawyers develop the reading and listening skills needed to work in English as a lingua franca. The exercises are based on a vast bank of texts covering the major areas of commercial law, together with other key areas such as public law, criminal law and English for Academic Legal Purposes.

Videos

Our video lessons cover a wide range of topics from specialist areas of law through to commonly confused terms. The clips are engaging, and are written and presented by our team of British and American lawyers. A further benefit of the videos is the exposure to a number of different accents and presentation styles. Further support is provided by the transcripts, which can be used in conjunction with the videos to help develop learners’ vocabulary, grammar and knowledge of important collocations and lexical chunks (= word partnerships).

Posts

Our dictionary has been designed to give short, clear descriptions for lawyers with English as a second language who need to understand a term quickly. However, lawyers will sometimes need more background information. Our posts have been produced with this need in mind by our team of lawyer-linguists, each with their own areas of specialist legal expertise.

CEFR level

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries (for example, Colombia and the Philippines). It was produced by the Council of Europe. Its main aim is to provide a method of learning, teaching and assessing which applies to all languages in Europe. Our corpus-informed dictionary features definitions graded at B2 level on the CEFR. Using plain language to clarify the terms rather than simplify them, complex legal concepts are made more accessible to learners of English. The CEFR provides a common basis for language education in the key areas of curriculum development, the design of teaching and learning materials, and the assessment of foreign language proficiency. One of its main achievements has been to develop a comprehensive set of scaled descriptions of the components of language proficiency at all levels across a range of skills. For example, a learner of English at B2 level can perform a number of relatively complex tasks, including asking questions for clarification when following a presentation, understanding the general meaning of both routine and non-routine correspondence, and writing reports and correspondence.

Relevancy

The relevancy of the results shown after a search is one of the cornerstones of a successful search database. TransLegal ensures that the results returned upon a search of a legal term are accurate and relevant by manually linking exercises, videos, dictionary entries, posts and other Legal English materials to the relevant terms. This means that TransLegal does not use algorithms or other automated systems to predict relevancy. Instead, the lawyer-linguists at TransLegal have manually matched each database entry to the legal terms relevant to it in order to ensure that the results are highly relevant.

Stages of work

English language content

10,000 English dictionary entries have already been completed. TransLegal’s in-house staff of lawyer-linguists continues to add English language materials to this database constantly and to improve the quality and functionality of existing materials. In addition, we constantly monitor searches made by the users in the database to identify any sought-after terms not already included in our database and we update our materials accordingly.

Initial translation to local languages

The partner university will translate those English legal terms in TransLegal’s database which have equivalents in the local language into the local language (these English terms all have definitions, sample sentences, and sound recordings, and many have language exercises, videos, etc.)

Identification of essential local law terms

Using leading local language law dictionaries and other resources, the partner university will identify local language legal terms that are essential to include in the search function. English translations or near equivalents should already be in the TransLegal dictionary for most of these terms. However, this work is essential in order to identify any missing terms (stage 4).

Identification of missing terms

After receiving the list of essential local law terms that have been identified by the partner university, TransLegal will compare the essential local language legal terms with the translated terms the partner university has produced in stage 2 and determine which terms are not covered.

Translation of missing terms into English

The partner university will suggest English translations for any missing terms identified in stage 4 so that TransLegal can create English dictionary entries for these.

Creation of entries for local law terms that are missing from the English dictionary/database

TransLegal will then create entries for the missing local law terms identified by the partner university and for which the partner university has provided a suggested translation.

Drafting of special entries for terms with insufficient equivalence

The partner university will write special entries for legal terms that have partial equivalence to the English legal terms in TransLegal’s dictionary but not full or near equivalence, and for local language legal terms with no English equivalent. The partner university will also provide suggestions for links to English words in the TransLegal dictionary that might be helpful for the user.

IT platform

Description of the IT platform

Due to the limitations of out-of-the-box eLearning and dictionary systems, we have over the last few years been developing our own solutions in-house, based on WordPress. More recently we have been migrating our services to the new systems and gradually opened these up to the public.

The Linux servers use the industry standards PHP, MySQL and Apache 2 as well as our own software to give our subscribers the best and most comprehensive Legal English experience possible.

Current functionality

Through links to relevant legal terms, language exercises, and videos, the online dictionary provides users with rapid access to highly relevant resources and materials. The exercises, for example, which are linked to the English terms returned in a search of a local language term provide the user with direct access to TransLegal’s online courses and the functionality provided there. Videos and sound recordings also provide the user with valuable tools for pronunciation help.

Future functionality

One of the greatest advantages of the dictionary is the fact that all of the languages are aimed at the same English language content meaning that any future improvements to the functionality of the English content and the amount of English content benefit all of the other languages. TransLegal will continue to expand the English dictionary with new terms and more in depth content. For example, beginning in 2015, TransLegal will be adding sample documents to illustrate the usage of legal terms.

Routines for data entry by the university partner

TransLegal has made it simple for the students and faculty of the university partners to enter their data (the translations of the English terms into the local language and the comparative law notes) into TransLegal’s database. The database can be easily accessed from any computer connected to the Internet and no special software is needed. With login passwords, the students and faculty who are pre-defined as either “contributors” or “editors” gain access to the database and can enter their data.

Support for university partners

Q&A forum

The website has a built-in forum for Q&A which is open only to the students and faculty staff participating in the project. This feature will allow the users to pose questions to other students and staff working on the project as well as TransLegal’s in-house lawyers around the globe.

Direct contact with TransLegal’s US and UK lawyers

The students and faculty staff participating in the project will also be assigned a contact person at TransLegal (US or UK lawyer) who will be responsible for answering any questions about specific legal terminology or the administration of the project generally.

English law reference materials

In addition to TransLegal’s online resources available to the students and faculty staff, TransLegal will make other, third-party, English law and language materials available to the university partners to help them with their translation work.

Student internships

TransLegal offers a selected student from each partner university the possibility to intern at TransLegal’s offices in Stockholm for 2-3 months. Working on a daily basis alongside the British and American lawyers at TransLegal, the student will have a unique opportunity to work in an English language environment and develop the local language materials with the direct assistance of TransLegal’s staff lawyers.

World map