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The Importance Of Subject Expertise In Technical Translations

Translation is not just about words and has as much to do with the context and subject matter as the specific words. This makes subject matter expertise not just important to translations and technical translations but it is central to the overall quality. Technical document translations target specific audiences rather than the general public where specialized language and vocabulary is needed such as clinical trials and documents targeted at doctors. The professional translator therefore needs to be fluent in the signs, symbols and terminology of a particular science, discipline and subject as well as the source and target language. In technical and business translations a lack of extensive subject matter becomes further amplified which could lead to significant misunderstandings, mistrust and at worst legal action against your business.

What Is A Technical Translation?

Technical translations involve the translation of documents produced by technical writers such as clinical trial reportsand owner’s manuals. More specifically the source text relates to technological subject areas or texts which deal with the practical application of science and technology. Technical translations require the translator to have a high level of subject knowledge, mastering the specific subject terminology as well as being a professional translator in their native language. The importance of consistency in technical translations cannot be overlooked especially within patents and pharmaceutical documents which may include repetitive terminology. Technical translations are a fine balance between art and science. They are influenced by both theory and practice, meaning the translator needs to be both an expert in linguistics and the academic field of the subject in order to carry out an accurate translation.

The Task Of Being A Technical Translator

A technical translator is not only faced with effectively transmitting the information in another language but they must also use their knowledge to fulfil the technical side to the task at hand. As opposed to simply translating word for word, technical translators need to in fact create new meaning rather than repackaging the source text. This demonstrates the importance of a technical translator who must also take into context the target audience, the target language and the target culture when translating technical documents. Having an interdisciplinary background in both linguistics and specialized fields such as medicine, is central to the accuracy of their translations.

Technical Translation & The Target Audience

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects a technical translator is faced with is the specific cultural features and ensuring that they are transferred and communicated correctly in the technical translation. Languages do not allow for ambiguity especially when concerned with technical translations. A mutual understanding of both the source and target cultures is therefore just as important as the linguistic knowledge in technical translations. Even when two cultures are working within the same target language, such as Spanish from Latin America and Spain or English from the United States and British English, cultural differences still exist. From writing strategies and differentiation in tones to document presentation and conflicting concepts, the technical translator is faced with a number of hurdles to jump that are outside the realm of linguistics. Simply knowing what the words mean does not make a difference if the overall cultural context is not understood.

Should The English-Language Be Used As A Technical Lingua Franca?

Translation is a way through which language and communication can exist in a global world, breaking down language barriers. With the continued advancement in technology, communication across the world has become more important and the need to communicate with people from a number of different language backgrounds has also grown. The English language is considered the primary language for global communication and business. However, while English is a language of global communication it has a number of implications for technical communication. This English-language bias negatively affects native speakers of other languages who may have limited access to the technical documents which is further inhibited by their own understanding of technical English documents. Untranslatable words also suggest that the English language cannot be used as a technical lingua franca as the lack of a corresponding word creates a loss of cultural meaning and often leads to important cultural connotations being described. Rather than moving towards English as a lingua franca for technical documents, technical document translations should continue to be made using multiple languages, to best serve the target audience.

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