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.

Get the Best English-French translation – Part II

Getting all the pieces together for your translation project

Optimising the File to Be Translated

In the first blog of this series, I started by giving tips to customers looking to get an English-French translation on how to collaborate with translators, starting with aspects related to planning and reference materials. Now the focus of the suggestions to optimise the process is in the source text that you will send to the translator.

Send the Final Version of the Source Text

Do everything in your power so that the source text sent to the translator is the final and revised version. If it is not possible, the least you should do is highlight the changes made after the first delivery. You can use a different colour font, a bookmark tool, or even a specific tool for revisions, such as the one that marks changes made in Word (“track changes”). In these cases, it is very common for the translator to charge for the extra work and, depending on the volume of the new text, the deadline should be changed.

What you should always avoid is that endless back-and-forth e-mail with multiple versions of the same source text, especially after the translator has started the work. This is the perfect recipe for wasting time and, most likely, money.

Send an Editable File

Translator translates. Simple, isn’t it? However, some people think they can send an image to a translator and get it back with everything just the same, but in another language. Well, this is perfectly feasible, but it is another service that your translator can offer or not. And not all translators offer it (I do). While some of us love desktop publishing and have fun formatting texts, making graphics, preparing tables, creating images … others are not very good at it, do not like it or just think it’s not worth investing in these extra activities and prefer to concentrate their efforts at what they do best: translate.

Type of Translatable Files

Most translators prefer to receive editable files. That being said, editable PDFs are acceptable, but not ideal. Sometimes it is even possible to copy the content of a given PDF and paste it into a word processor, but often the formatting is lost. This is especially true when the document does not contain just plain text.

The best kind of file you can send to a translator is in a format that can be edited and is also supported by the so-called “CAT tools” that your translator uses. A brief parenthesis is crucial here: CAT tools and, more specifically, translation memory software, are not the same thing as machine translation tools. Explained very simply and briefly, translation memories are files that store sentences/segments translated by the user. So when your translator comes across the same content or something similar, the software shows the sentences used previously, helping to maintain textual consistency. One of the advantages of these translation tools is that the formatting usually stays intact.

You Do Not Have an Editable File

In case you cannot send an editable file, the reactions vary from translator to translator. Before you begin work, the translator may ask you to send the material to another professional to make it into editable text. The translator can also choose to type the translated text into a simple file, without worrying about the final formatting. In that case, you will be responsible for accomplishing this task or hiring whoever does it. The translator can also offer the formatting (and charge for the extra work) or forward the text to a colleague who takes care of this task (which will charge its own fees).

Working with editable texts is also a way to reduce the margin of error.

To conclude, I would like to make it clear that collaborating with your translator does not just mean making their lives easier. Most important of all is that there are many things you can do in order to get the best product possible.

Concluding this first series of articles, the next blog will deal with the translation stage itself and what to do after receiving the translated text. Again, I’ll give you suggestions on how to get the most return on your translation projects.