The Tricks and Traps of Technical Translation

By Translator Thoughts
In Technical Translation
Dec 15th, 2013

Technical Translation

 Technical Translation

Technically speaking, technical translation can be a minefield. Translation in itself is as far from simple as it gets; maintaining an author or speaker’s unique voice on the other side of a language barrier takes unparalleled linguistic knowledge and a specific skill set that allows the translator to capture expression. The technical translator is a rare breed and to join their ranks you need more; you need an understanding of the intricate, complex subject matter of the manual, journal, guide or technical document you are translating.

Reputable agencies like 1st Transnational utilise industry experts for their technical translations, but why? Aren’t they just copying the same information in a different language? Not at all, the technical translator needs a full understanding of specific terminologies and knowledge of the overall subject matter of a document in order to make their translation 100% accurate. Clearly the tirelessly hardworking technical translator has their work cut out for them to avoid many of the traps that stand between them and document accuracy, so why should you invest in a reputable company when it comes to hiring one of these linguistic acrobats?

Language Moves Faster Than the Dictionary

Technical and scientific industries are exploding in the 21st century, so much so that new terminology is constantly being created at a faster rate than dictionaries can keep up with. It isn’t simply the rate at which these words and phrases are cropping up that poses a problem for unseasoned eyes, but the same term or phrase may have a completely different recorded name in other parts of the world that simple word translation cannot decipher.

Knowledge of the subject matter is imperative as the translator needs to have an understanding of the deeper meaning of a term so they can research the appropriate sister term, which may bear no resemblance to English.

Patent Pending Protection

Members of the scientific, engineering and design communities usually seek their colleagues help when translating research and documents into other languages, but this comes with a set of risks that some people feel aren’t worth taking. It’s unfortunate, but sharing work and ideas with other members of your field can open you up to the risks of intellectual theft. By utilising the finely tuned skills of a technical translator with industry experience, you can rest assured that your work will remain your own, and your translations will be accurate.

A Different Breed of Translator

In standard translation there can be some wiggle room where the translator exercises their creative license, but technical translation is air tight. The technical translator needs the discipline to keep themselves from accidentally embellishing a piece or allowing their own voice to show through the content. It’s one of the trickiest elements of the job that standard translators often have trouble with, but technical translations need to be factual, straight down the line and ensure they are 100% the words of the author.

Cultural Clarity

From the outside looking in, it can seem as though there is little to no cultural influence on science, engineering and technical information; surly data is the same whatever the language? It’s a surprising statistic but research suggests that only around 5-10% of technical content is actually terminology. This means the rest of the content is plain language, making the document as influenced by culture as it is data, if not more, so our technical translator friend has to be aware of cultural writing styles, phrases and idioms which still need to be translated.

Professional Peace of Mind

Clearly the importance of an experienced professional is crucial when it comes to accurate translations. The benefit of choosing a translation company is clear; they can guarantee who you are working with and choose the right candidate with the right knowledge and experience for specific jobs.

The perfect technical translator has the right mix of linguistic prowess and specialised knowledge that enables them to work through your documents and deliver you a translated copy that cannot be beaten on accuracy. Don’t try the rest, stick with the best, and choose a professional translation company that you can trust.


This post was written by Emma Smith in partnership with 1st Transnational; a leading translation company who have been established for over 20 years and have particular expertise in the fields of marketing, medical, legal, financial and technical


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TranslatorThoughts is a blog about Translation, Interpreting, Languages and Freelancing. Featuring articles from a variety of authors, interviews, tips and much more. If you want to contribute, write an email at

2 Responses to “The Tricks and Traps of Technical Translation”

  1. Unless you need your text translated into many languages, it will be more cost-effective for you to find a qualified translator yourself. You can start with the translator databases at the main professional associations, such as the ITI, CIoL, ATA, and BDU. Then you can be certain who will be translating your text.

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