Where are Technical Translators Headed?

onJanuary 19, 2015

inTranslation Tips

Technical Translation

Technical writing and technical translation services have long been thought of as being limited to the precise and accurate translation of documents such as scientific papers, medical manuals, legal and business document translations. But times they are a-changing. It is increasingly becoming obvious that technical translators are adapting to a fast changing world.

Technical translators are much more likely these days to be communicators as much as translators. This has long been the preserve of literary translators or interpreters who often have to be more creative about what they have to translate. Technical translators were just expected to faithfully reproduce the exact and literal meaning of a piece of text and not have any personal input into what they are translating.

However, technical translators are now beginning to overstep their traditional boundaries and develop a skill in real world, culture specific and subject specific language. This requires more than just a comprehensive knowledge of the source and target languages. It involves an understanding of their audience’s nuances. This is partly because of the growing internationalisation of human activity. Marketing translation services, in particular, must present their message so that it can be understood by multiple groups of people. Even where people speak the same language, they may be divided by dialect, social group, age or gender specific language and slang.

The growing need for technical translators to intervene in their work is in evidence in such things as maintenance or instruction manuals. These by necessity have to be translated into multiple languages so machinery or appliances can be assembled, used and maintained. Technical translators now have to get a sense of how their translation is going to be understood by their target audience. They have a responsibility to make sure that there are no safety issues. This means they have to assess their work from the standpoint of the people that the text they are translating is intended for. Will they understand it? How can they improve a document so that it will be more effective? This means the technical translator has to be much more creative about what they are writing about.

Medical documents are another example of technical translation that has to depend on the intuitiveness of the translator. Medical instruments and drugs are distributed worldwide. Their correct use depends on an understanding of how to use them. The translator has a responsibility to understand where these things are going to be used. The context of the target audience is as important as the literal translation in itself.

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