People want to sign a document written in a language that is not in English. This is possible but there are some procedures that need to be taken. Please note that in all cases the Notary will need to affix a Notarial Certificate providing commentary on the situation – ie the ability of the person to understand the language in the document and other matters depending on the case. This article is an overview. There are other detailed aspects that will need to be dealt with by the Notary.

The aim for the Notary is to ensure that the person signing understands the meaning of and agrees with the contents in the document. In order to do this, the person will need to understand the foreign language or have a translation of the foreign language.

When the person signing knows the foreign language but the Notary does not.

This is a common situation as there are a large number of foreign languages in the world and a Notary will not know all these international languages. Often there is not a competent notary available who speaks that language.

The Notary needs to establish that the person understands the language and the legal effect of the document.

The signing person will need to declare to the Notary that he or she (a) is fluent and literate in that foreign language; and (b) that the person has read and understands the contents of the document.

The Notary will make enquiries to establish that the person is fluent and literate and that the person understands the document. Also the person signing will need to confirm to the Notary that nothing in the language says that the Notary explained the document to the person.

When no one knows the foreign language, neither the signing person or the Notary.

The foreign language document must always be translated into English before proceeding.

The gold standard is that an external competent translator (NAATI) be engaged to provide this translation or a competent adult interpreter be involved to explain the document in front of the Notary and the person signing but most clients will not want to do this. This is because they have obtained a translation from an agent or legal person from overseas assisting them with the transaction (which they trust) or they understand the legal effect of the document and they are in agreement with what is occurring. In these cases a translation is still needed but the person can obtain it. The Notary will recommend this translation be affixed to the document.

In no circumstances should a Notary allow someone to sign a foreign language document where an oral or written translation has not been obtained first.

Bi-lingual documents where neither the person signing or the Notary knows the foreign language.

This document has an English version in one column and a foreign language in the other column. The intention is that the columns are a translation of each other. Common documents in this form are “Specific Power of Attorney” or “Power to Act” documents. Again the Notary needs to provide commentary (Notarial Certificate) that explains the language status of the person signing. This Certificate will say that the signing person understands the English translation to be a correct translation of the language and that that person is not fluent in the language and is only fluent in English and signs the English version only and that the Notary has no knowledge of the foreign language. The person signing will need to check whether this is acceptable or whether the overseas country needs the person to sign the foreign version. These issues are not covered here and can be discussed with the Notary.

Some countries have other specific legal requirements surrounding the signing of the document. For example that it must be read out before it is signed for it to be valid. Again these matters are not dealt with here.