Technical translator – lessons learnt
Translating technical material from one language to another is one of the most difficult types of translation.
Having specialised in the translation of technical material – such as manuals, leaflets, guidelines etc – from Arabic to English and English to Arabic, I have a few thoughts, or you can call them guiding principles, to share with anyone who is interested or would like to embark upon a technical translation career.
Knowledge is key
Building technical knowledge is an essential for any technical translator. For a start, if you do not have enough knowledge about technological and technical matters and developments, it would be an insurmountable task to render a technical text from one language to another.
But why building knowledge is such an important aspect in technical translation. Translating a technical text is not a matter of a word-for-word rendition; it is more of a deep read of the text in its entirety, digesting it to the full and then transferring it to another language.
If you do not have enough technical information and knowledge about the subject, the text itself becomes an isolated bizarre piece of writing for you that is difficult to understand, and consequently difficult to translate.
One vital benefit of building technical knowledge is that it enables the translator to be well versed in the vocabulary and style of technical writing.
How to achieve it then? To acquire technical knowledge, you will need to read books, well-researched press articles, studies, academic articles and essays that discuss or revolve around a technical topic. This should ideally be in both languages, the source and the target.
Once you have built an adequate level of technical knowledge, you will feel extremely confident when you are translating a technical text from one language to another.
Need for resources
Although having a deep technical grounding is important for any technical translator, he or she would still need supporting resources when doing the translation task.
Based on experience, I would say that any technical translator should ensure he or she has access to three types of resources that are quite instrumental in technical translation.
The first resource is specialist dictionaries. Because this varies from one language to another, you will need to do your own research as to what the best technical dictionaries out there are. You can certainly get this from reading users’ reviews, comments and assessments shared online or you can simply check with your senior colleagues or fellow translators.
Once you have established which dictionaries are the most useful, you will certainly need to get them either available as a hard copy, or online or installed on your PC.
The second resource is technical glossaries. Those are widely available online and they are very helpful for any technical translator.
The third resource is Google Translate. Yes, Google Translate, but DO NOT rely on it to translate for you. The good thing about Google Translate is that it sometimes provides the translation of certain complex technical terms that you can spend hours and hours searching for elsewhere.
Google is a very helpful handy resource if you are translating a text with very highly complex technical terms and expressions.
Questioning and research
I found it extremely important to be questioning when I translate a technical text. I will explain why.
There are translation-centric question and answer web forums and many of the members of these forums discuss the best translation for certain words.
Based on my experience, quite often what is classified by the forum moderators as “the best answer” is in fact not the most accurate rendition of the original word, and in some cases it can even be a mistranslation.
So, my advice for any technical translator is that he or she MUST be questioning and do appropriate research if they are faced with a difficult term to translate, not just take what is available on these forums for granted.
As a technical translator, you will find yourself coming across certain terms and expressions over and over again in the material you are translating, so using a piece of software such as Trados will certainly be of great help to you.
For those who do not know much about Trados, it is a computer-assisted translation tool and translation memory software with features to help translators to translate more quickly and more easily.