Technical translation: something else than just translating

Technical translation focuses on translating specialized texts that belong to a very specific scientific area. In our daily lives, we come across examples of technical translation in user guides of computer programs or in the instruction manual of any household appliance. Technical translators however, can easily come across any kind of text and topic in their daily routine, since technical translation is a very broad field.

Technical translation or scientific translation?

Since technical translation shares many features with scientific translation, it may be difficult at times to distinguish one from the other a priori. However, they are not the same. Generally speaking, it may be said that science represents a set of technical knowledge, whereas technology deals with the practical application of this knowledge.

Thus, scientific texts tend to be more focused on the dissemination of scientific knowledge and advances. These texts are normally written by the teaching community or research teams. The main objective of technical texts, however, is to instruct the reader. These texts tend to be more concise, accurate and unbiased than scientific texts, as they have a specific purpose.

Thus, an investigative article on the causes of population aging is one example of a scientific text, and the description of the components of an engine is an example of a technical text.

Characteristics of technical language

The following are the main characteristics of technical language:

  • Objectivity: the language has a clearly informative and/or instructive purpose. The author of this kind of texts is merely an information provider and does not interfere by assessing the information.
  • Terminology: the use of specialized terms that are unknown by the general reader is very frequent, as it happens with the legal language.
  • Accuracy: each term has a specific reference; any ambiguity must be avoided in a technical text.
  • Conciseness: in technical language, less is always more. In this type of texts, we never find stylistic resources or any superfluous information.

Importance of the technical translation

The dissemination of technical texts makes the daily progress of science and technology possible. Today, the lingua franca of science is English, but that doesn’t mean that every technological advance is developed in an English-speaking country. Science and technology base their success on the dissemination of information and the cooperation between organizations. Any scientific advance or contribution to the scientific community must be transmitted in order for it to be meaningful. Otherwise, it lacks effectiveness.

Therefore, the work of the technical translator is essential. Once again, the professionalism of the translators is invaluable. A technical translator must always master the subject matter beforehand. Furthermore, very thorough research must be performed before the translation process. It is very common for a technical translator to spend more time searching for references than actually editing the document. We must not forget that terminology and accuracy play major roles in technical translations. Once the translation process has begun, the translator must pay extra close attention to numerous additional risk factors, such as acronyms or figures. Ultimately, it is not enough to have some skills in the target language. A good translation demands much more.

Image by Sergey Zolkin

About Antonio Leal Fernández

Graduate degree in Translation and Interpretation from Universidade de Vigo (2013). Translator and proofreader in the German and English to Spanish combinations. He has been working for englishpanish since November 2017.

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