We are also technical translators specializing in several industrial and scientific fields
What are technical and scientific translations?
Technical and scientific translation refers to the translation of documents that cover technological or scientific topics such as mechanical engineering, electronics, and renewable energies. There are quite a number of technical fields and the terminology within them evolves daily as new studies, discoveries, and inventions enrich the pool of human knowledge.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought
British journalist, essayist and writer
Although they really should not be categorized as such, translations in the legal, financial, and business domains are also commonly viewed as technical translations, while those in areas such as medicine, chemistry, and biology are considered scientific translations. However, they are all specialized translations, because they require knowledge deriving from in-depth studies in specific fields and the use of a sector-specific vocabulary that, if not respected, can make a translation less usable to the expert user even when it is substantially correct.
We also handle technical and scientific translations in the Italian→Japanese, Japanese→Italian and English→Italian language pairs. Please see our translation experience in the general translation page.
Can translators really specialize?
If “specialization” means being able to translate (write) like a bona fide professional in a particular field, then maybe yes. However, if we are talking about the ability to produce a translation that is accurate yet is written in a style that would make true professionals grimace, then absolutely. It goes without saying that translators with a technical or scientific background have a strong advantage when working in specialized domains, especially those which require theoretical knowledge or substantial hands-on experience.
It is therefore a bit of a stretch to state that a translator is specialized in a field if he or she has not spent any time gaining practical experience in it. For example, can translators with purely linguistic backgrounds—that is, ones without medical degrees or any direct experience that is not the result of translation activities—ever really call themselves medical specialists? Or is this characterization more applicable to medical-school graduates who had a change of heart and later decided to become translators?
Many translators do not hesitate to advertise themselves as specialized translators even though they lack solid qualifications. But since translators with an actual technical or scientific background are relatively few in number (and even rarer in more exotic language pairs such as Italian and Japanese), the bulk of available work is entrusted to the so-called generalist translators whose technical skills vary broadly. For this reason, it is usually a good idea to appoint a bilingual editor specializing in the relevant field to render the resulting translations more suitable for the stated purpose, at least in cases where both accuracy and proper style are critical requirements.
Generalist translators who wish to translate technical or scientific material should have at the minimum a basic technical or scientific background (or both), or better yet a healthy scientific inclination that allows them to correctly comprehend the specialized subject matter and craft technical translations that are, if not perfect, at least meaningful to the end user.
Absent these traits, translators will have no choice but to blindly rely upon technical dictionaries or the Internet—a risky proposition since technical domains often contain many tenuously connected branches as well as terminology that varies significantly according to the subject matter. Generally speaking, only translators with solid technical backgrounds will be able to identify the correct terms through the use of direct knowledge, logic, or simple intuition.
The Internet is without a doubt the lifeblood of most translators today as it essentially offers up the sum of all human knowledge right down to the most obscure of topics, thanks to the dedication and generosity of countless experts (and some pseudo-experts). Nevertheless, researching an unknown topic can prove incredibly time-consuming for the uninitiated, and time is not something that most translators have in spades. This is particular true for novice linguists who cannot normally afford to waste too much time wading through unfamiliar subject matter.
What is a technical or scientific inclination?
This could be defined as anything that makes it easier for a person to understand technical or scientific topics.
People who are technically or scientifically inclined can assimilate new notions quickly, and for such people reading a technical document can be a particularly interesting (or even pleasant) experience. Those who are not, however, will find the task to be a boring, difficult challenge that makes the comprehension of even the simplest concepts harder.
This explains why not all translators have a desire to be technical or scientific translators. Linguists without a penchant for these domains will be unable to produce documents that appeal to expert end users, such as individuals utilizing a high-tech apparatus or complex machine.
Is writing style important in technical and scientific translations?
A better question is: why wouldn't it be? Although using accurate terminology (something that usually takes many years of experience) is naturally of the utmost importance for technical and scientific translations that require a certain lexicon, that in and of itself may not be enough—the resulting translation may lack efficacy from a stylistic point of view and thus prove to be inadequate for its intended audience.
Even a fundamentally correct technical or scientific translation might be considered no better than an incorrect translation if it is poorly written. It's easy to spot poorly written technical manuals and other scientific documents, and there are many examples of such texts out there. Although the effort made by the translator to find the appropriate vocabulary may be apparent, such works neglect the negative impact that their adopted style will have on the end user.
This phenomenon is on the rise lately due to the proliferation of machine translation software and websites, tools which many translators are unfortunately using as a crutch to avoid spending time on improving their own power of expression. While such a translator might somehow manage to arrive at the most appropriate terminology, if the specifics of the subject matter are not sufficiently grasped then the final translation will ultimately be viewed as unprofessional.
Theory and hands-on experience
While theoretical concepts can generally be understood through study, hands-on experience can only be acquired via the practical application of such concepts. This experience almost always results from employment in a related industry; merely working in close proximity to technical or scientific staff can help individuals develop a certain degree of technical background, even if their actual job positions are not technical in nature.
Quality differences between technical or scientific translations done by really skilled translators in certain fields and those done by purely linguistic professionals, i.e. only graduated from a language school or in translation, are almost always apparent.
Translators fresh out of language or translation school might excel in translating general texts, but what qualifies them to jump right into technical or scientific domains? What terminology will they utilize to communicate specialized concepts to demanding end users? How many years of translation work will they need to reach a level of quality accepted by the market?
The inability to use correct terminology can easily destroy not only a translator's credibility but also that of any involved translation company (please also read our page for translation companies).
Correctly understanding the source text
While it may seem strange, technical and scientific translators often do not correctly understand the source text. In many cases this misunderstanding stems from a basic lack of knowledge in the field, but sometimes it occurs due to source texts which are poorly written or have themselves been translated into a new source language by non-native speakers.
English→Italian translators working on texts originating in Japan (or other non-English-speaking markets) are familiar with this problem and sometimes encounter serious difficulties in properly understand their meaning. In such cases an unexperienced translator will end up hiding behind a too literal translation, appearing almost as if processed through machine translation, whereas a more expert technical translator will be able to identify the intended meaning and use logical reasoning and experience to successfully improve a badly written source text into something that makes sense in the target language.
It goes without saying that translating directly from the original language rather than a translation of it is ideal—in particular when translating between extremely different languages such as Japanese and English or Italian—but this is not always feasible. Paradoxically, in certain specialized fields it may make more sense to hire a competent native speaker of the source language to perform the translation, because this would at least guarantee the fundamental accuracy of the translation. A native speaker of the target language could then be employed to rework the translation into something that is natural and grammatically correct in the target language.
This approach however is quite expensive because the cost of such post-translation editing will significantly affect the final price (in some cases even exceeding that of the translation itself), leaving a difficult decision for translation providers in today's market where translation quality commonly takes a back seat to budgetary concerns (by the way, this is the process we follow to guarantee the quality in our Japanese-Italian translations).