The phrase “professional translations” can refer to two different aspects of the translation process. On the one hand, there’s the technical side – for example, the specialist knowledge you need for a medical translation. On the other, it could mean the professional quality of the translation, and its use in professional communications.
There are numerous technical fields, each with its own highly specialised needs. Financial translations require comprehensive knowledge of the IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) accounting rules. An expert translator working on a management report for publication with a company’s financial statements has to choose the right terminology and find the right tone. Readers want reliable information, but they don’t want to be bored to death.
Where do you draw the line between general and technical writing? Writing for specialist audiences sets itself apart from general texts through the quantity of technical terminology.
Translating for a general audience poses different challenges than technical translation. The writing has to feel natural, like something written by a journalist. It has to inform, persuade and captivate. When it comes to the language pair English/German, you also have to bear in mind that translation from a vague, ambiguous language, like English, into a very precise one, like German, can be very challenging. A literal translation of the English source text would be too emotional, and would not be suitable for a critical German audience. The opposite is true of translations from German into English. Dry German text has to be spiced up to be effective in the UK or US market. In either case, a translator has to carefully choose a tone that will appeal to their audience.
Unlike text for a general reader, technical writing is aimed at an expert audience, and packs in a lot of information. Examples of specialist texts in areas like finance, law and medicine include management and audit reports, corporate publishing content, contracts, clinical studies and white papers. The terminology is generally highly technical, precise and extremely complex. And every industry has its own stylistic conventions. A translation has to be technically correct and convey credibility. An accurate but unusual choice of words in the translation can raise doubts about the whole text in the reader’s mind.
A translator working on technical content has to choose the right specialist vocabulary and be aware of the linguistic subtleties. A management report with an extensive corporate image section demands a different tone from the notes to the financial statements, which are full of dense information about accounting standards. A book about sports cars for the corporate publishing sector is best translated by a petrolhead who knows the difference between water and air-cooled engines, and understands the passions involved.
Translating technical text takes more than just talent and a feel for language. You need expert knowledge of the subject that goes far beyond mastery of the appropriate terminology. To fully understand technical content, you need a firm grasp of the field and subject matter.
A truly expert translator has to meet exacting requirements: How can they interpret a text about medical technology without detailed knowledge of the medical and technical background? And how can they tackle articles of association or partnership agreements without knowing the legal terminology and local laws? The inaccurate or incorrect translation of a single specialist term can have dire consequences.
That’s why, in ideal circumstances, technical writing should be translated by experienced professionals with appropriate training and qualifications. They should have specialist subject knowledge, be familiar with the technical terminology, and be highly sensitive to the subtleties that are so important to a specialist audience.
An expert translator also offers the client an additional quality control. Their close reading of the text often allows them to spot mistakes and logical inconsistencies, which are reported back to the customer.
A high-quality professional translation is an exceptional service that saves the customer a huge amount of time and effort, and helps them shine on an international stage.
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