October 6, 2019

Chinese notary interpreters for speakers of Chinese

I first wrote this article in Dutch when I heard that Chinese acquaintances had been to a notary where an English interpreter had been used. Now, many expatriates from Chinese-speaking regions speak excellent English. When they sign a notarial deed in the Netherlands, an English interpreter is sometimes deployed. There are risks to this method, especially when it comes to people from Asia. This article discusses the benefits and disadvantages of deploying an English notary interpreter for Chinese speakers. First of all, let’s deal with some misconceptions.

Financial considerations

First of all, it is a common mistake to think an English interpreter is cheaper than a Mandarin interpreter. In practice this shouldn’t even be a consideration – after all, it’s all about choosing the most appropriate solution for the situation. But in addition, an English interpreter often isn’t even cheaper. The price that interpreters charge depends on availability, distance and of course supply and demand. If an interpreter is available in the neighbourhood, you pay less travel expenses. There isn’t always an interpreter in the neighbourhood – no matter for English or Chinese. I advise you to look at travel distance for the interpreter.

Practical considerations

With an English interpreter, the notary can also understand the translation. This is convenient and makes the conversation easier. But there is also a risk that one of the clients understands less than they appear to do at first sight. This also involves a cultural aspect: people from Asia tend to avoid bothering other people. In other words, if they are asked if it is OK to use an English interpreter, they will be more inclined to answer ‘yes’. They interpret the question as a way to make things easier for the notary. In order to streamline the process, they give the answer they think is best for everyone else. Often, they do not put their own rights and interests ahead. This way, someone who really needed a Chinese interpreter, may be assigned an English one. Of course, it all comes down to the professional insight of the notary. However, some cultural sensitivity can be helpful.


The notary often uses specialist language. The correct Chinese terminology is often surprisingly concrete and easy to understand. English terms are often more abstract and difficult than the corresponding correct Chinese terminology. It is important for people to understand what they are signing for. It is also important to ensure others do not unduly influence them. Therefore it is usually best if people are spoken to by a neutral party in their own language.


Notaries should first think of finding a Chinese interpreter for Chinese clients, unless they are dealing with expatriates with a near-native level of English. Cultural sensitivity is needed in making that call. You can contact Banfield’s Chinese Interpreting if you need an interpreter with specific training in Chinese notarial terminology.