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What is technical translation? | What you need to know

If you look up “technical translation" in the dictionary you will see a vague description of the term which isn't particularly helpful. In our latest post you will learn more about the process, tools and how we achieve high quality in every project we do.

So, what is technical translation? If you open the dictionary and look up “technical translation” you will probably see the following definition “Technical translation is a specialized translation, usually on a specific subject matter”. This vague definition isn't particularly helpful so to gain a better understanding of what this term entails and how such translation affects exporters, we will explain it in more detail.

Technical translation in a nutshell

Often technical translation is a translation of a source text that only a certain percentage of source language speakers can understand. The goals of such translation is to make this source text perfectly clear and easy to understand by a target language audience.

Technical translation can be applied to many source texts, such as technical manuals, user manuals, operation instructions, technical websites and others. Getting the best out of technical translation projects requires genuine knowledge of the subject matter and high linguistic skills. Almost always context understanding and industry knowledge is also essential. In addition, the use of translation memories, glossaries, and terminology databases ensure higher quality translation and better translation accuracy. All that can be achieved by using computer aided translation tools (CATs).

CATs are nice

A Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) tool is an application, desktop, cloud or hybrid (desktop app using cloud resources) helping translators in their work. The most attractive thing about CAT tools is not what they do, but how they do it.

When there’s a repetition in the translation project, the software automatically re-uses the keyword or phrase pulling data from the translation memory or terminology databases.


Why is translation memory so important?

Translation memory, and CAT tools in general are perfect for documents with repetitions, such as technical manuals, and other technical documents. Accessing previously translated content is a significant productivity gain that allows your LSP (language services provider) to complete a project faster and with a higher translation accuracy.

Not every project is suitable for CAT tools. Translation for books, poems, literary text or one off projects are not appropriate for the software.

Why do companies use glossaries?

Even the most skilled and experienced linguists sometimes use dictionaries. A translator’s role is to use words in the most natural way and in their correct context according to the subject matter and industry. Companies who require regular translation work usually build their own glossary of terminology. For example, some may always use “a wire” and never “a cable”. In most cases both words in translation would be correct. From a client’s point of view, it could make a huge difference.

Chances are that companies that seek the services of an LSP for the first time do not have glossaries. This often means that the client needs work with the LSP so that keywords and phrases that need to be translated in a specific way are identified. LSP’s need to understand the clients’ requirements clearly and may need additional comments, definition or content for these keywords and phrases.


Machine translation isn't evil

The very first attempts of machine translation were based on the most obvious method - looking for the target word in a dictionary. This meant that the processes and algorithms used were not able to recreate the meaning of source text, but rather translated word for word.

With the technological development and better mathematical and statistical models of recent years, machine translation has evolved significantly. Today, it includes translation memories, glossaries, and terminology databases and looks for logical similarities in large bilingual databases. Advanced algorithms allow for the creation of a translation with meaning that is very close to the original source text.

No matter how good the source files are, or how advanced the computer algorithms, and how big your translation memory is, a post editor is always involved. This is a language specialist who reads the translated text and tweaks it to make the text flow correctly, sound ‘human’, and match the industry or even client’s specific language style.

Do you have any questions regarding technical translation?


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