Translating Specialized Texts

When a client has a document to be translated whose subject lies within a specialty field, the services of a specialty translator or translator team needs to be called on.  This is essential to obtain an accurate and acceptable translation in the target language.

Specialized documents can fall in any number of fields.  There are legal documents, patents, contracts manuals for all manner of machinery or processes, academic articles and reports to be published in various trade journals.  There are also numerous operating documents such as bills of lading, customs clearance documents, financial and annual reports, specifications and many more.  In some cases the specialties will overlap, such as legal court documents that have a technical discussion as the root of the problem in dispute.

In such cases, a professional translator will proceed more or less as follows.

Knowledge of the specialty.

Ideally he or she will be a practitioner of the topic at hand.  At very least the translator should have a good working knowledge and experience in the subject matter of the document to be translated.  While it is not essential to be an expert in the field, a deep understanding of the terminology and practices of the field is important.  It is the responsibility of the translation agency to have translation professionals on call who match the profile needed for the job at hand.

Outside-in language processing

The specialist translator will generally begin by looking at the document as a whole.  What is the document?  By viewing the overall document, such as a contract, specification or patent, the experienced translator will already have a good idea of what the translation should look like in the target language.  As a native speaker of the target language, previous experience and knowledge is applied to the text as a context within which the translator will work.  Large chunks of the text are quickly recognized for the function they serve.  The translator can then begin to work on smaller sections of text, knowing somewhat intuitively what to expect.

Inside-out language processing

Having analyzed the text to this point, the translator can now begin with the basic units of meaning, the morphemes of the text.  With an understanding of most of these units they can then be related to larger units until entire segments are fully comprehended.  It frequently happens that certain units only become fully clear when the broader context is laid bare.  The last step is full understanding of the text once all partial units of meaning have been decoded and the original author’s intended meaning becomes entirely clear.  Once this stage is reached, the text is ready to be polished to convey not only the meaning but the style and register that would give the same effect in the target language as was originally in the source language.

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