Language of Law

Earlier this week I participated in a bilingual (French–English) conference. Of course, not all participants and presenters were bilingual, so simultaneous interpretation services were offered.

I’m always impressed with simultaneous interpretation. I think it’s a real feat to be able to listen in one language and process the information quickly enough to speak words of the same meaning in another language, while continuing to listen, continuing to process, and continuing to speak. I’m imagining reading a case while dictating a memo while running on a treadmill.

So simultaneous interpretation is wonderful and impressive. What also struck me, though, is that the interpreters at this event had to be able to do this while also choosing the correct word or expression in a technical subject area: To an extent, the lexicon of law is a third language to add to the task. So, while on the treadmill, the interpreters are also following a closed-captioned episode of Law & Order.

When I was pondering this yesterday, an inquiry about bilingual legal glossaries serendipitously showed up in my stream. The discussion resulted in a collaboratively sourced little list of online French–English bilingual legal glossaries or translation sites. I’ve checked them all out and, while they don’t move me to attempt simultaneous interpretation, they are all unique and useful tools:

Hat tip: The sources of much of the above information are @montserratlj and @cottinstef. Earlier in the month, the same knowledgeable contacts discussed Multilingual Legal Glossary, and our research program took particular note because it’s published just across the strait, by Vancouver Community College.

UVic LRW@UVicLRW  · Aug 7

Neat resource–Canadian too. Multilingual Legal Glossary via @myVCC  HT @montserratlj, @cottinstef

It doesn’t, in fact, include French, but it does offer equivalent words in one of eight languages, starting from an English word. A search of an English legal term returns the plain language meaning of the English word, along with the translated term and its meaning in the other selected language. It also suggests related terms in both languages.

I’m certain other useful free online French–English or multilingual legal glossaries exist, and I’d love to see readers’ favourites.


  1. Don’t forget the Canadian and Quebecois governments offer some very useful services in the form of

    1) Termium
    – also provides equivalents in Spanish
    – just added a common law family law glossary:


    2) Le grand dictionnaire terminologique
    – good to keep you onside with the Office québécois de la langue française

    These databases, which appear to contain extensive legal terminology, also offer much more than that. I recommend them.

  2. I particularly appreciate your description of the mental processes equivalent to simultaneous interpreting! I have limited personal experience with that but our company provides simultaneous interpreters for many events, conferences, etc. When I have a chance to watch, I am always in awe of these top-notch professionals!
    Patricia May
    Tembua:The Precision Language Solution

  3. I would like to draw your attention to the “Juricourriels”, another very useful resource in the area of bilingual legal terminology.

    Juricourriels are a series of brief write-ups about challenging French-language equivalents for legal words and phrases in a common law environment. They are distributed by E-mail at regular intervals by the Université de Saint-Boniface’s Centre de ressources en français juridique.

    This series was launched more than 15 years and existing Juricourriels are available at