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Will your business need multi-lingual contracts?

The vast majority of business contracts written in the United States are simply written in English. If you're thinking of branching out and working overseas, though, you need to consider the fact that partnering with international companies means connecting with those who may not have English as a first language -- or may not speak it at all. If this is the case, those contracts likely need to be written in multiple languages so that all parties can understand what it is they are agreeing to.

Naturally, the languages you choose depend on where you're going to be doing business. However, the American Bar Association does list the following as the most common second languages used in these situations:

  • Chinese
  • Korean
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Russian

In some cases, though, you may need to declare a primary language for the contract that will be used if there is a dispute. For instance, perhaps the contract was written in English and then translated into Korean. You may be nervous that things will be lost in translation or that the terms will not be conveyed in exactly the same way. If this leads to a dispute, you want to know that English is the primary language and that version of the contract will be used in legal proceedings. This ensures that you understand your own position and that the other-language version of the contract is more or less just to help others understand -- though the English version is binding.

This whole process can get very complicated and is crucial to your success, so make sure you understand your legal options -- particularly if there's a dispute.

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