Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Why your translator needs to be an expert.

Specialisation is part and parcel of the translation profession. Every good translator specialises in a few areas, which means that they are able to provide a professional, accurate translation that reads like an original text written by an expert in a particular field. Why is it so important and how can you make sure your translator is a specialist in your industry?  Let’s find out. 

Specialised terminology

Specialisation allows translators to handle complex, industry specific terminology that cannot be found in a general dictionary. It enables them to identify specialist terms and provides resources to accurately translate them. Only an expert can distinguish if - in a given context - a term has a specialist meaning or a general one. For example ‘fixed fee’ generally means stała opłata  (fixed-rate fee) in Polish, however, in specialised legal context it can also mean zastaw rejestrowy  (registered pledge). Only a good legal translator will be able to spot this.
Legal specialisation is particularly tricky, because of the differences between the legal systems, and this is exactly the case in English to Polish translation. It is hardly possible to provide an accurate translation of a legal text in this language pair without sound knowledge of the Polish and English legal systems. This is mainly because some of the legal notions simply do not exist in the legal system of the other country.


 Almost every industry has its jargon, slang and idiomatic expressions that are understandable only to the specialists who use them internally to communicate with other experts in the same field. A translator who is not familiar with the industry will not be able to identify the meaning of the jargon terms, which will effectively lead to their mistranslation. It is worth pointing out that mistranslations – especially in highly specialised documents – cause considerable confusion, misunderstandings and can cost the client dearly.

Specialised style

All industries differ not only in terms of terminology but also of their style of writing: technical, marketing and legal texts, among others, have their own characteristic style, tone and register. In order to convey the same style to the translated text, you need to master it. When specialising, translators read extensively in a given field not only to acquire the necessary knowledge, but also to familiarise themselves with the writing style characteristic for the industry. Why is it important? Imagine that as an expert , you are reading a document that has been appallingly written: the register is completely wrong, sentences are weirdly structured and you need to read a paragraph several times to make heads or tails of it. It does not feel right, does it? You lose your time and patience only because someone has not done a good job. This is why mastering the industry specific writing style matters. We could say therefore, that legal translators need to be able to write like lawyers, technical translators should write like engineers etc.

How translators specialise?

When it comes to specialisation, every translator has a different story to tell. In general, though, there are three different routes to specialisation: some translators complete a course at a university, some have previously worked in the industry, while others decide to self-study and also learn by experience. Whichever route they’re taking, good translators make sure they become experts in a given field and that they continue to develop their knowledge and expertise via numerous courses, workshops as well as attending conferences and speaking to other specialists.

How to make sure your translator is a specialist?

We’ve already seen that it is very important that the translator who will work on your document specialises in this field. But how do you know that your text will be translated by an expert? Can you actually check this?
If you are using translation agency’s services, you don’t really know who is working on the project and you will not be able to directly contact the translator. If you are dealing with a good agency, you can be sure that they will always check internally what the areas of their translators’ specialisation are and will never assign them any translation that is outside that area. However, a number of agencies do not care whether a project is within the translator’s speciality and you might end up with having your document translated by someone who has little or no knowledge of the subject.

With freelancers, it is easier to check their specialisations and there are a number of ways to do this.  The most straightforward is simply checking their website - sometimes even their copy will give you a hint whether they know anything about your industry. Take a look at their testimonials, blog and find information about any qualifications they have. It is also worth checking what they tweet about – many translators share links and information on the topics they are experts in. Because I specialise in business and legal translation, I often tweet about law and international business as well as marketing. On my website, you can find legal and marketing translation as separate subpages; the same pattern is maintained on my blog – both specialisations have separate pages with articles on each of them.

Over to you

 If you are looking at giving a highly specialised document for translation, it is worth making sure that your translator is an expert in this field. No professional translator can claim that they are able to translate complex documents on every topic, as you can’t be an expert in everything. A cardiac surgeon will never perform a neurological operation, because of a simple reason - he does not have enough knowledge of neurology; similarly, a commercial law solicitor will never take on a criminal case for the very same reason. As an expert in legal and marketing translation, I will never undertake to translate a text in IT, because I would not do a good job. Therefore, if a client asked me to translate a complicated IT document I can barely understand, I would kindly explain that I do not have enough knowledge of IT to perform the translation and I will recommend a colleague who I trust is an expert in this field. 

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