What is Technical Translation? (In-Depth Guide)

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Written by: pTranslate Contributors


“Technical translation is the perfect balance of art and science”

1. What is Tecnical Translation?

Technical Translation is a type of specialized translation involving documents with complex terminology and technical content. These documents are usually about technically-packed subjects, such as Science, Technology, Finance, Law, or Medicine.

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2. Why do we need Technical Translation?

Technical texts require a lot of knowledge to properly comprehend. An average person with no exposure and education in these fields can have a hard time understanding the concepts and jargons used in the documents. Translating such documents to another language is an even more difficult task as the translator must know the equivalents of those jargons in the target language. Only experts in the field with real-life experience and linguistic competence can perform technical translation.

Without a good background in Medicine, for example, translating related concepts might end up causing more harm than good. Documents in the Medicine field contain a lot of sensitive information. One single mistake is enough to cause disastrous consequences, resulting in the damage of others’ well-being, damage of reputation, and loss of money. All of these mistakes can be extremely costly to fix.

Similarly, without education in Law, a translator won’t be trusted to translate Legal documents. Legal documents are highly sensitive because the entire field itself hinges on words. In Law, one word is enough to divert the whole case to another direction. Accuracy in the choice of words is a must in Legal translation. The level of difficulty in Legal translation also makes it fall under the Technical Translation umbrella.

Technical translation is the perfect balance of art and science. It is a science because it deals with a lot of technical content and requires a great deal of subject knowledge to achieve an acceptable translation quality. It is art because the translator must be talented, or “gifted” with a flair for language to adapt the words from one language to another without losing linguistic nuances in the meaning while still retaining the aesthetic features of the word.

For example, a word commonly used in legal papers, “subsist”, has almost no true equivalent in other languages. It is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to be logically conceivable as the subject of true statements”. Legal translators have been struggling to find an equivalent of such a word in many other languages, but they can only resort to less-expressive alternatives.

Without the help from the Technical Translators, a lot of critical knowledge wouldn’t be able to reach us. There is always a language barrier between us, and although it is not a bad thing, it still hinders our capability to communicate with each other effectively. In a world where globalization is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, we need to exchange ideas as fast as possible. It’s the Technical Translators that are making this happen. They bring technical information and high-expertise knowledge across borders, enabling accurate transferring of information and technology. In a way, they are connecting the world.

3. Who can be Technical Translators?

Most Technical Translators are previously experts in the field they specialize in. 

For example, a lot of Legal Translators were once lawyers or attorneys. They learned another language and become a translator. Their expertise in Law gives them a competitive advantage against other translators who don’t have a specialization. 

Similarly, many Medical Translators were once medical practitioners or doctors. Having had years of experience and education in the field, they are able to comprehend the highly complex documents filled with medical and pharmaceutical jargon. Medical Translators can also be international students that are bilingual. Their local knowledge, language competence, and experience in the Medical field allow them to effectively adapt medical texts to their native language.

Some professionals initially followed Translation and developed a niche for themselves later down the road of their career. These Technical Translators usually have stronger linguistic capabilities, but their industry expertise might not be as strong as those who entered the field as an industry professional first and became a translator later.

Overall, no matter where they come from and how they end up as a translator, Technical Translation is still an interesting field that allows them to combine their scientific knowledge and their love for language. Without them, we will have a hard time making advancements in so many fields.

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4. How big is the Technical Translation field?

Technical Translation is a huge part of the translation industry. It comprises more than 90% of the world’s professional translation output. The other 10% belongs to other subfields, such as Literary Translation, Certified Translation, and Basic Translation. 

5. Areas in Technical Translation

Technical Translation is further divided into smaller areas. These are the different industries that Technical Translators specialize in. These areas include:

  • Legal Translation

Legal Translation is one of the biggest areas of Technical Translation. Legal Translation involves the translation of legal papers, legal documents, evidentiary documents, court transcripts, patents, and other documents of official purposes. 

Legal Translation is the highest-paying, but also the hardest area of Technical Translation. This is because Law is built on the correct use of words. A misuse of words can be exploited by seasoned lawyers to divert the case to an entirely different direction, effectively changing the outcome of the case. This is a reality, so Legal Translators are required to translate as accurately as possible to ensure that absolutely no meaning in lost in the translation process.

  • Financial Translation

Financial Translation is also an area that demands a high level of precision. Financial Translation is less demanding than Legal Translation, but there is still a lot of requirements in terms of accuracy. The numbers have to remain intact. Moreover, the translator must also have a background in Finance to comprehend and distinguish the many financial terminologies used in the documents. Fortunately, many financial documents follow a predefined, universal format, so the translator can leverage the power of Translation Memory (TM) to help them increase consistency in their Financial Translation.

  • Engineering Translation

Engineering Translation was the beginning of Technical Translation. The demand for specialized, high-quality translators starts from the demand to be exact and precise in every calculation of the Engineering field. Engineering is a vast field, so translators usually have to pick for themselves a niche in Engineering that they can specialize in. 

A few sub-areas of Engineering Translation:

  • Aerospace Engineering Translation
  • Chemical Engineering Translation
  • Civil Engineering Translation
  • Electrical Engineering Translation
  • Electronics Engineering Translation
  • Industrial Engineering Translation
  • Robotics Engineering Translation
  • Computer Engineering Translation

All of these sub-areas have different terminology and concepts, and the translator must be aware of all of them in their translation process. Despite this complexity, Engineering translation is a highly competitive area, and the translation volume never ceases to increase.

  • Marketing Translation

Marketing is a unique field of Technical Translation due to the low frequency of jargon and technical terminology in the document. It doesn’t take years of experience and education to read a marketing copy. However, the challenge lies in the exact translation of the “personality” of the copy, not the copy itself.

How can we translate the KFC’s slogan: “It’s finger-licking good!”? That’s the biggest challenge of marketing translation. There are cultural references and linguistic properties that are almost impossible to retain in the translation process. But the job of the Marketing translator is to maintain the “personality” of the brand across all borders. It’s why Marketing translation also falls under the Technical Translation umbrella.

  • Tourism Translation

Tourism translation is the same as Marketing Translation. The challenge of translating tourism content is not about the complex terminology, but about retaining the style and personality of the documents. It is hard to retain the style of a Tourism description. Moreover, tourism documents have to be culturally relevant, which means that the translated version has to resonate with the readers. There can be some cultural gaps that the translators must be aware of. Their job is to incorporate those differences in the translation, which is not an easy task to accomplish at all. 

6. Technical Translation Process

There are 4 steps in the Translation process:

  1. Analysis
  2. Comprehension
  3. Translation 
  4. Revision

It begins with analysis.

The translator will have a look at the document and determine its tone and style.

Most of the time, technical documents are quite “dry”. Its language is scientific, formal, and sometimes formulaic. 

We can only see some “style” and “personality” in marketing copies and tourism content. 

From a translator’s perspective, technical documents with formal content can be quite boring to take on. However, it is just a part of the job. When they analyze the text, they will prepare their glossaries and translation memory as well as a wide range of sources that they can use as reference when they translate.

After that, they will assess the difficulty of the text by skimming the document. Some research might be needed to help them comprehend the content better. They might also need to keep themselves updated so that they are not missing out on any new terminology in the industry. 

After they translate, they can perform a thorough revision to ensure that all information is accurately transferred. They usually bounce back and forth between the Comprehension – Translation – Revision stage while they work. Once everything is finished, they can deliver the translation. If they work with an agency, the document may go over another round of revision by professional reviewers and proofreaders to ensure the highest level of quality.

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7. Translation Memory in Technical Translation

Translation Memory tools increase consistency and reduce error rate. For formulaic and repetitive documents, such as legal texts, Translation Memory is necessary. These documents have a predefined format and terms that get repeated over and over again. TM saves those terms and compiles them into a glossary. When the terms appear again, it suggests the meaning for the translator. The translator can then choose to select the term or retranslate it completely, depending on the context.

TM is not involved in the translation process. It is more of a helpful robot that helps translators increase their speed, accuracy, consistency, and bring satisfaction to the clients. They can even preserve the “tone” and “style” of your document if used correctly. That’s why Translation Memory is the technical translators’ best friend. Most of them use Translation Memory to assist them and help them deal with the challenging nature of Technical Translation.

8. Finding The Best Technical Translation Agency

Due to the attractive nature of Technical Translation, there are a lot translation agencies that offer this service. As a company/business/person in need of Technical Translation services, you must be wise in choosing the one to invest your time, effort, and capital into.

You can read our post about the factors you should consider when choosing a translation agency here.

At pTranslate, we have a wide range of services to offer you. Our translators were carefully vetted, and they all have successfully delivered hundreds to thousands of translations to clients worldwide, all of whom gave positive feedbacks. We are proud and excited to be able to contribute to the overall development of our world through our world-class translation services.

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