The Technical Language Translator – It all Comes Back to Translating

metal items to picture the area of expertise of the technical language translator

What makes it interesting and challenging for the technical language translator?

Put simply, it is the translator’s job to – at least – understand the source text, right? To convey the information it intends to communicate in a complete, accurate and appropriate way in the target language, while keeping in mind the function of the text and the audience.

Translators must convey the information as if it was written in the target language

Translators have to reproduce the messages and intentions of the original. Translations made for publication should be read as if they were written in the target language and even documents intended for less public uses should be convincing and legible. This requires a unique set of skills and aptitudes, and the complexity of the task is often underestimated. Inexperienced translators, and even subject-area experts, tend to produce literal or word-for-word translations that follow patterns of the source language rather than finding a more natural form of expression in the target language.

Technical Language Translators Must Be Curious

As a basic requirement, technical translators, for one, need to have an in-depth knowledge of the source language (including notion of their specific rhetorical patterns and speech structures). They must have native or near-target fluency, a vocation to write, and highly developed information compilation skills. Technical translators really need to be curious about three types of things: about the language, the subject, and the way the experts talk and write about it. Combining all three, the more a technical language translator knows the more specialised his language is, the easier the task gets and the better the result.

What Scientific Translators Bring to the Table

How can scientists contribute to translation? Apart from the in-depth knowledge and experience of their own specialty, they offer a broader scientific base, the innate curiosity of scientists, and the insight of understanding how science and scientific discourse work. They also bring very specific research skills to compile information and to find the literature needed. Last but not least, they bring their knowledge of the Specific language of science. However, scientists who are thinking of becoming technical translators need to carefully analyse their language and writing skills. And they should certainly consider formal language training – the best and certainly the fastest way to develop professional-level skills. Since few translators can afford to focus on strict specialisation, scientists pursuing a career as a freelance technical translator should also prepare to expand their knowledge of their own subject matter in other areas.

Many Areas of Technical Translation

The translation market is as diverse as the areas where customers operate. For example, the technical translation needs of a large pharmaceutical company goes through a wide field, from R & D, patents, manufacturing (chemical production, pharmaceutical formulation and packaging), and regulatory issues to product information, marketing and scientific communication, with subjects ranging from chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, pharmacology, toxicology, diagnostics and medicine, to chemical and process engineering, and environmental protection.

What Planet Technical Language Translators Come From

Translation services are provided by freelancers (the bulk of the profession), internal translators employed by companies and institutions, small and large translation companies (employing both salaried technical language translators and freelancers), and translation agencies or language service providers (who outsource work to translators, freelancers or other translation companies). The market is highly fragmented, with large parts of it showing all the characteristics of a ‘backyard’ type operation: the vast majority of technical translators work on their own or in the informal trade for rates that vary widely from one project to another. (Remuneration is typically by word or page or line of text, although some top professionals can negotiate hourly rates.) Only a handful of translation companies have international reach. This makes it difficult to find salaried employment. Yet, the size of the market shows that there are plenty of opportunities for skilled freelance work. It’s just a matter of going out looking for him.

Translating: what’s the point for scientists?

What are the benefits? In Europe, the vast majority of technical translators employed in the industry earn well, comparable to the salary of other professionals. The situation of freelancers varies considerably, depending on your skills and the market you choose to work. Competent technical translators with essential scientific and technical qualifications are highly sought after by industry, translation companies and agencies. As a technical language translator you may not be creating knowledge, but you are sure to be using your talents creatively to help spread it.