5 January 2018

Technical translations and specialization of translator

There is a widespread and persistently imposed misconception that the whole range of scientific, technical and business translations (and, accordingly, the specialization of translators) can be reduced to one or two dozen areas of knowledge.

Maybe it was close to the truth in the sixties and eighties of the twentieth century, when all translations can be related to the subjects of struggle for peace, medicine, electrical engineering and electronics. But the spectrum of dramatically developing fields of science and technology, economics and business has expanded significantly over the past decade.

Such areas of knowledge as medicine, law, environmental protection form the whole worlds with dozens of sub-fields, each of which has its own terminology and specifics in terms of translation.

But for some reason it is still believed that every single professional translator has to specialize in two or three, and maximum in five or six areas. And that he/she generally has no right to make translations in all other areas, as to make them well still can not.

But how can such translator stay afloat? If the main areas of knowledge, for which translations are ordered, reach near 100, by the most conservative measures, and he/she translates only five of them and, on principle, refuses from the others, this means that he/she can only agree to one of the twenty offered to him texts.

What’s sense, in general, to spend time on calls to such translator, who takes one of 20-30 texts to be translated? After all, the only one, who masters the subject, may not suit according to the terms of payment or time limit for performance.

If all translators-freelancers do this "in principle", then, who will translate at all?

Specialization in five or six areas is the hard-to-reach ideal. A translator who wants to work actively in the market, but not just translate for own pleasure 10 pages of text once a month, has to be psychologically and professionally ready for translating at least in 10-15 different areas, without withdrawing from challenges whenever he/she has to master a new subject area.

As an example, more than 60 large areas of knowledge are given below. And we tried not to include too narrow areas or little relevant areas, from the point of view of translation, here. In fact, the special areas of knowledge that professional translators daily have to deal with are much more: 200-300-500.

This can be easily found by visiting the websites of foreign translation firms and seeing what long and varied lists of topics for translation they specify. There you will find multimedia and advertising projects, and much more. And we have analyzed not only websites of large agencies, but also translation bureaus consisting of 1-2 interpreters.

And if you do not want to look for it on the Internet, open any modern polytechnic dictionary: You will also see dozens of relevant technical disciplines there.

It can be difficult, in general, to attribute to any one subject area the concrete texts, given for translation. For this you need to study them thoroughly. And it turns out, in fact, that there can be terms from different areas in every text.

And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that managers of translation agencies often do not know the language in which the text of original is drawn up and therefore judge about its content from customer's words.

And the customer sincerely and confidently says that the text refers to ecology, although it is connected with technical characteristics of pumps, and there is practically no ecology there.

And in texts that really relate to ecology, it often turns out that the whole "ecology" is reduced to use of several terms, and the main part is composed just of “general phrases” and purely legal explanations.

It would be wrong to reduce the difficulty of translating only to the correct translation of terms.

Experience in translating texts from a concrete special area is highly desirable only in cases where the text is very special and difficult terms are found in almost every sentence.

But there is no more than 10-20 % of such texts (depends on market area, in which translator works). So it is sufficient for translator to have knowledge of the language and general technical terms to successfully translate all the remaining texts.

Yu.Novikov