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3 Tips for Reading Public Records in Languages You Don’t Speak

12/20/22 6 minute read

Cross-border investigations can pose a number of challenges for investigators, including reading and interpreting corporate documents written in languages you don’t speak.  

Learning how to conduct investigations in languages you don’t speak can make you a much more effective investigator because some competency with other languages will help you avoid costly misinterpretation. Cross-lingual competency can also make you more effective in uncovering additional non-obvious risks you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

There are several elements to developing your ability to investigate foreign languages, including learning naming conventions, understanding transliteration, and handling international trade names. Our latest webinar goes deep on core concepts and examples of how to apply them in the field, but the tips in this blog will get you started.

Keep reading to learn how to navigate a document written in a language you don’t understand. While it may seem daunting, a little research and prep can allow you to navigate public records in other languages with confidence.

Tip 1: Research key terms

Before you can actually begin “reading” public records written in a foreign language, you need to understand key terms that will appear in the documents that are specific to your investigation. These can include: ownership and various types of control relationships (e.g., directors, managers, legal representatives, etc) and common corporate structures (e.g., LLC, Inc.).

It is also important to spend time researching common identifiers and figuring out which, if any, are unique to an individual and company. The most authoritative source for this information will be corporate laws and regulations published by the governing authority or registrar, if they are provided in English. If that isn’t available, looking at law firms and/or corporate service provider websites that cater to foreigners wishing to do business in the country can also be helpful to understand key terms and concepts that will appear in public records.. Devoting time to this at the outset is crucial to effective entity disambiguation later on in your investigation. See an example of this technique in practice here.

Tip 2: Study document structure

Once you’ve attained a strong baseline knowledge of key terms and concepts, you can dive into how public records in the jurisdiction are structured. First, you’ll want to spend time finding out which document types will provide information relevant to your investigation so you can then get a sense of where key information appears on those source documents.

More often than not, you’ll be looking for specific types of information from a public record, such as shareholder and control relationships or addresses, so you likely won’t need to read the document in its entirety. Highly structured public records in places like Russia and China typically include a lot of the same types of information and keywords from entity to entity. When it comes to unstructured documents you can apply a similar approach. Scan the documents for your selected key words and start to notice patterns of where they appear. 

Once you’ve determined where in a given document the relevant information is, you can easily extract it and move on to the next document, gathering speed as you become increasingly familiar with the key terms and record types. Note that you may need to translate individual and company names several times over before concluding your investigation. If you want to translate blocks of text for added context, Google Translate and other machine translation tools can be a useful and time saving tactic. 

>> Learn how to avoid other translation and transliteration pitfalls in our latest webinar <<

Tip 3: Incorporate automated translation into your workflow

No matter the size and scope of your investigation, the above tips can enhance the efficacy of  your investigations. But applying these tactics across several different languages throughout the process may prove time consuming. In these cases, corporate risk intelligence platforms built with translation capabilities can allow you to move from record to record much more efficiently. 

For example, Sayari Graph is equipped with a built-in Google API translation that allows users to quickly translate key document information into their native language. Once you’ve determined your key research terms, you can make queries in Graph in both English and the original source language. Graph unlocks the ability to query by individual name, company name, personal identification number, tax ID, date of birth, address, and phone number, as well as many more data attributes. The ability to query virtually anywhere within public documents from over 250+ jurisdictions across the globe is crucial to find connections between individuals and corporate entities that often remain hidden. 

Want to see Sayari Graph’s translation tool in action and learn more about how the platform can support your cross national investigations? Schedule a demo with one of our product experts today! 

For more tips on conducting investigations outside of your native language, read our ebook, Techniques for Overcoming Language Barriers in Open Source Investigations.

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