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Challenges In Technical Translation

Challenges In Technical Translation

Technical translation include legal documents, appliance manuals, user guides, medical files, instructions, birth certificate and so on. These are texts written for specific purposes, and they normally contain technical, legal or scientific information – which means it could have a lot of jargon or technical terms.

However, technical translation does not begin and end with an accurate translation of technical terms. The sentence construction, language style, idiomatic expressions and other nuances need to be understood and followed – in addition to having knowledge of the subject matter.


HSU Translations is an international translation company with over 10 years experience and an expert in translating western languages into Asian languages.  They have seen the changes in the recent technical translation arena.

With science and technology making such rapid advances, we hear new technical terms pop up every now and then. The translator has to find appropriate translation in the target language. If there isn’t an equivalent term, they may need to retain the source document term. The best option would be to discuss with the client as to the next step: should they coin a new term altogether, or use the term in the original document? It’s better always to keep the client in the loop.

● It is imperative for the translator to be familiar with the subject matter in order to understand the true meaning of a term, especially in translating abbreviations and acronyms– it is extremely important to find the right term according to the subject in matter, otherwise the acronyms can be wrongly translated and it will cause the whole translation to be worthless.

● To translate legal documents, the translator will need to know the specific laws which pertain to the text in the source document; they would also need to understand how those laws affect the audience for whom the target document is required.

● If documents are written in a specific style that is different from the language style of the translator, the translator will have a tough time. It may not be possible to simply maintain the same style and format in the target document. For example, a sentence that contains just 15 words in English may require 20 words in say, German, or the other way around. Here, a conflict may arise with the formatting. While retaining natural flow and precision in meaning is the most important, they may need to make a few adjustments to keep the formatting somewhat similar to the original text.

● Maintaining precision is crucial in a technical translation – unlike translating prose. The technical content must be retained. For example, if it’s an appliance manual, the troubleshooting instructions must be able to allow the user to follow the guidelines to find out what’s wrong with the appliance and to take the necessary action – just like a person reading the manual in the original language would be able to do.

● For texts like guides and manuals, the translator also needs to ensure that the instructions are easy to follow; so that a product can be assembled or repaired in minimal time. The user should not have to spend an inordinate amount of time reading the instructions and understanding them. For this, the translator would need to use clear, simple and suitable words in the target language.

● The translator needs to understand the cultural nuances of the target audience too; they need to know what’s acceptable in certain cultures and what is not. This is especially important when there are pictures of people.

● Most manuals and guides contain graphs and diagrams. The translator will need to also translate the content inside diagrams, sometimes a little graphic editing skills needed.

Technical and legal documents translation mandates possession of exemplary linguistic skills as well as subject matter expertise – a difficult combination. You will need to do a thorough background check of the translator you intend to hire, and also ask for references. Make sure you talk to the translator and find out how much they know, and how much research they are willing to do to ensure accuracy of translation.
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