Did you know that in 2019, the publisher of open-access scientific journals MDPI published over 100,000 scientific articles? With so many articles produced by a single publisher, it’s hard to imagine the avalanche of articles published in every existing scientific journal. Today, science is thriving everywhere, but what if it doesn’t speak the same language as you?
Here’s when scientific translation comes to the rescue, establishing a bridge between scientists and science enthusiasts all around the world. The engineers of this bridge are scientific translators and the bricks are the translation techniques and precise expertise of the translators. In this article we’ll introduce the world of scientific translation to you, and discuss the challenges and practices used by the experts. But before we start, let’s meet with the father branch of scientific translation—technical translation.
You may ask, how are technical translations different from any other? Aren’t all translations the same—just take one language and convert it to another? Surely, in their core, all translations seem alike. But if you’d take a closer look at the subject, you would find a clear distinction between general and technical translations.
General translations deal with broad subjects that require little to no expertise from the translator. The examples of general texts are abundant: from a post you read on Facebook to a news article on BBC. These materials are simple and easy to follow for any reader, and anyone with a decent knowledge of two languages can translate them.
Technical translations are different. This kind of translation tackles technical texts, such as assembly and user manuals, software strings, financial documents, patents, health and safety documents. Such texts are written by experts to educate or instruct the reader. Here’s where they intertwine with scientific texts, focused on sharing scholarly knowledge with a narrow audience.
Technical translations are challenging. The language of technical documents is rich with professional terminology and jargon, often incomprehensible to the public. To deliver a high-quality result, technical translators have to combine their mastery in two languages and expertise in their chosen field. They should be ready to translate technical terms and adapt the material for the target audience.
This is all you need to know before we focus on scientific translation alone. If you want to look further into technical translations, we recommend our extensive guide. Now, let’s move on.
Scientific translation is a sub-branch of technical translation. While technical translation has more broad applications, scientific translation focuses on scholarly materials, including journal articles, academic theses, research papers, science webinars, etc. Here are fields of study that often require translation:
The essence of scientific texts is in detailed analysis and well-founded explanation of a scientific problem (especially in articles describing research results, hypotheses, theories, etc.). The goal of the translator is to precisely interpret the scientific data and convey the material to the reader in a manner similar, if not identical, to the original style. This condition branches into several challenges that experts face on a daily basis. Take a look at the most common issues that the translators must solve.
Scientific translation is a very demanding task. A scientific translator has to be:
The expertise of professional translators in the field is enormous. Becoming an expert in scientific translation is a challenge within itself.
Scientific texts often follow the form of a monologue. The author introduces a problem, a discussion, and a possible solution to the problem. The language is strict and monotonous, the structure includes long compound sentences that deliver information in detail. Thus, the translator should pay close attention when transferring the grammatical structures of the original to the target language.
How to build a bridge between scientists speaking different languages? First, an expert drafts a blueprint of the bridge—rough translation. Then they check in with a proofreader to weed out errors in the first stage. Then, using the bricks—expert knowledge and an assortment of tools—they build models of the bridge, the translation drafts. The draft then gets the approval of other experts and the contractors and, finally, the translator constructs the real-life bridge—the final translation.
While it sounds easy, in fact, scientific translators have a great deal of responsibility in this section, we will share useful tips that skilled translators use in their work.
A translator should consider:
The final and correct translation version should meet the following criteria:
But how to translate terminology in the first place? Translation experts use a variety of methods to ensure the terminology in the target language perfectly matches one in the source. Take a look at some of them:
These methods alone won’t allow just everyone to translate the scientific text, but in the hands of the professionals, they are a sharp weapon.
Scientific translation is a task both tedious and challenging for a translator. The many conditions, requirements, and limits that academic texts put on the expert’s shoulders make the translation a complex process. The translator must not only be fluent in the language pair but also have deep scientific knowledge.
The work of the translator doesn’t end just in converting material to a different language. The professionals have to adapt the tone of the translated material and do some localization, making sure the context of the material is not offensive towards the target culture. The expert should possess high communication skills to work closely with the client or the author of the original text.
This is why choosing a good scientific translation service is vital to get a stellar result. At Palex, we have been tackling technical and scientific translations for 20 years. Our team of professionals works with over 80 languages and is experienced in various scientific domains. If you’re in need of a trusted translation service company, reach out to us and we’ll gladly discuss your project.