Technical Translations: What on Earth Does that Term Mean?

When learning a language, you will at eventually have to start using dictionaries. They can be very useful, because often they don’t just provide you with words, but also some common expressions. Of course smaller dictionaries are more like survival guides, so you will need to have a good, reliable dictionary to hand. For technical translations however, dictionaries are not nearly enough. What other tools do you use to ensure accurate translations?

You will find that dictionaries do not always have an entry for the word you were looking for, so you have to find it somewhere else. As a technical translator, a high proportion of your work is related to terminology. Of course there are technical dictionaries, especially for medicine and law, but sometimes a dictionary is already old when it is published because technology moves so fast that printed dictionaries can’t manage to keep up. So, what can a professional do to make sure they deliver professional and accurate technical translations, where terms are accurate?


Firstly, technical translators specialise in their areas. This means that they read the relevant literature in both languages, and build up specialist knowledge in their working fields. So, if someone specialises in car manufacturing, they will try to read all the relevant material about this topic. They will then build glossaries and translation memories, so that they have all these terms and sentences available the next time they are appointed a job in the field.

Of course they are not alone when doing this. There are quite a few programmes that help you build translation memories and glossaries for technical translations. In addition, translation companies always keep a database of the translation memories of their clients, in order to be consistent with each translation they carry out. So, when a translator is allocated a job, they can use the translation memory of that specific company. Do you have any other resources that you feel other translators could benefit from? If so, please do share your experiences.

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So, terminology isn’t quite as easy as just looking for a word in a dictionary, is it?