Document translation requires a careful and thorough process that goes beyond the basics. Otherwise, you run the risk of mistakes that can lead to inaccurate and/or ineffective translations. This is especially true for technical translation projects.

Common translation mistakes can result in serious loss of face in certain cultures, damaging a company’s reputation and standing—not to mention their bottom line. In such technical industries as medical or manufacturing, a simple translation error can be catastrophic.

Technical Translation Mistake #1: Literal, Word-for-Word Translation

Technical translation efforts begin with attempts at literal—or word-for-word—translation. The professional term for this is called formal equivalence, because it closely follows the exact words of the source language.

This is the most straightforward form of translating one language into another.

Problems will soon arise when one word in the source language results in an utterly nonsensical word in the target language. Technical accuracy does not always provide the best or intended meaning.

Some words and fixed expressions cannot be translated literally without distorting or losing the meaning.

With technical translation, overcoming such challenges becomes even more important. Medical language employs terminology that is industry-specific and often appears with alternate spellings in different target languages.

Moreover, medical abbreviations can—and do—mean different things in different languages. Medical translation is an example of technical translation that must be precise and accurate, because any inaccuracy can have serious consequences.

Trusting your technical translation project to a non-professional or machine translation program is a serious mistake. Literal word-for-word translations often mistranslate or completely ignore important portions of text, especially if the technical language contains complicated or industry-specific terminology.

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Technical Translation Mistake #2: Neglecting Cultural Nuances

Common translation mistakes occur when direct “word for word” translation is not adequate to reflect cultural phrases and nuances. In this case, translators often use adaptation, where other words or phrases in the target language are used to convey the meaning of the source text.

In order to avoid a potentially serious translation error, translators must go beyond the literal meaning of the words. It is very important to identify what the words mean in a particular situation according to the cultural context.

While some claim this method is highly subjective, it is still recognized as a useful and necessary means of adapting the source language to the target language, particularly for untranslatable words.

When cultural differences cause confusion, similar words or phrases are substituted to convey the correct meaning.

Here’s a good example. Very often, “pincho” (a Spanish restaurant menu dish with pieces of meat grilled on a stick) is translated as “kebab” in English, when the literal meaning is really “spike.” Would you rather order a spike or a kebab in a restaurant?

When creating a technical translation, such issues take on a new level of importance. In the above example, if a spike was necessary for a specific mining application, would you translate it to the word “kebab”?

Technical Translation Mistake #3: Not Understanding Subject Matter

Far too many common translation mistakes are simply a matter of not possessing a working knowledge of the subject matter to be translated. This is especially true with technical translation projects.

Industry-specific words or terms that do not translate exactly from one language to another must be first understood in their use-context before choosing an adequate replacement word or term. In addition, choosing an unclear word in the target language that doesn’t fit the use-context is a serious translation error.

While most translators may be able to literally translate words, a translator with subject matter expertise possesses the understanding of what those words mean. That important qualification means you can depend on an accurate technical translation that incorporates cultural nuances, regional dialects, and correct industry terminology.

Nothing can substitute for years of training, education, and experience within a particular technical field. Subject matter experts are well-versed in the content and terminology used in technical translation because they have worked in the industry in question.

If you’re ready to begin a technical translation project for your company or organization, International Language Services is here to help. We’ve been providing exceptional technical translation services for more than 35 years. Contact us today to get started!


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