SPECIALIST TRANSLATION require understanding the context and subject matter

May 10, 2018

Machine translations such as through Google Translate are continuously improving. Texts such as warranties or certain simple manuals are translated – especially into English – to quite a decent level by those applications. So the question arises whether human translators are an endangered species?


In general translations where inaccuracies or style in translations are tolerated, machine translations may well suffice.  However, translations of legal, financial, patent, technological, medical or political texts or documents require specialised certified translators. So who are specialist translators?
As long as the translation industry has existed there have been opinions about what makes the better  translator: linguists with long term experience in translating specific texts or people with specialist education (e.g. medical or technical) with good language level. As it often happens, the answer is not obvious at all. And it is a part of a broader issue: which is superior – practice or theory? Let’s take for example translation of a patent from the field of biotechnology. The understanding of the patent register itself is a challenge which many native users of a given language don’t cope with; long, compound sentences and specific word order make it really hard to understand. Similarly in biotechnology – without knowing the subject it is impossible to translate it correctly.
Experience and proper certified professional background are requirements for quality in specialist translations. Absence of such may prove very costly and there are many real world examples.
One of the best known examples of costly mis-translation was in the field of legal translations (one of the most difficult and responsible tasks of the translation process). Every word, every phrase, comma or sentence order can change the meaning of the whole translation and ultimately decide on the outcome of multi-million contracts. The case in question is the so-called “Million Dollar Comma”. It was a dispute (2006) between Rogers Communications, the largest cable television provider in Canada, and Bell Aliant, discussed in Canadian newspapers. A single comma sign decided on the withdrawal from a valuable contract. It changed the meaning of ‘sending one year’s notice at any time’ into ‘one year’s notice sent after the first five years of the contract’. The contract value was one million Canadian Dollars. All that due to the imprecise translation from the French.
Translation very often is the last stage of launching a product or closing long-month negotiations. By cost cutting on the translation, one can spoil the efforts of many teams working on the product or project. Does it make sense to cut costs there? Translations, just as design or production should be assigned to specialists, technologist or engineers. They know what to do, so do specialist translators. Let’s trust them.
Source: Dariusz Mucha / BTD Services

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