The issue of terminology can be a tricky one, for both the customer and for the translator. Naturally, the customer expects that the translator should be an expert in the field and should understand the terminology in front of them – the customer is not a linguist and cannot be expected to be a source of knowledge for all languages for which they have commissioned a translation. That being said, technology is ever-changing, and it is a hard task for translators to be fully versed in all new terms which have cropped up in all industries for which they translate, particularly if those industries have patents pending and the terminology quite literally hasn’t been invented yet! Good terminology aids – even monolingual ones – are of great benefit to the translator.

So how can a translation buyer stay ahead of the curve and add value to their own translation projects?

Be consistent

It can seem trivial, but take this simple set of instructions as an example (it is one we have come across in a real job):

  1. Remove the screw.
  2. Fit the washer.
  3. Refit the bolt.

Nut and Bolt

This created a genuine conundrum for the translator, even though the text is really very simple– the customer has used two largely synonymous terms, screw and bolt. But do they actually mean them to be synonyms here? Is the screw we removed in point 1 the very same part that we’re refitting in point 3? Or is it a different part entirely?

Being consistent in preparing your text will cut down on the questions you may receive during translation due to issues such as these.

Be clear

Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms can be useful in documents, firstly to save space and secondly because everybody who reads the document in your office will know exactly what you mean. But will it be as clear to the translator, or even to your overseas colleagues who will be reading this document in a different language?

Where possible, provide explanations for abbreviations and acronyms, even if they should be left “in English”. If the translator knows that “XYZ” is the initials of your managing director, they will be able to accurately reproduce this in their translation, rather than the embarrassment of referring to this person as “it” rather than “he”…

If you can’t explain these in the body of the text or in a glossary at the end, then a list by email is just as helpful. Your translator will then be able to work with this to produce a text which is clearly understandable, making it a much more useful document for the target audience.

Be understanding

Translators are language experts. But you are the expert when it comes to your products. There are times when the translator may need to ask questions in order to clarify exactly how the product works, so that they use just the right terminology to explain it perfectly.

The automatic assumption can be that if a translator asks questions about a word, they don’t know what they’re doing. Actually, the opposite is true – any translator worth his or her salt will want to ask questions in order to be sure that they’ve done the best job possible for you. Can you imagine asking a builder to come and build you a wall in your home, and they just get started without even asking where you want the wall built, let alone which colour bricks you prefer? In the same way, the translator may well have questions which form the building blocks of a quality translation. Translation is a collaborative process – being aware of this from the outset will be of long-term benefit to all involved.

Picture Tudor Barker via Compfight

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About Steve Smith

Steve Smith has been with STAR UK since 2007 and is now the Managing Director. Hobbies include kayaking and night mountain biking, but most of his spare time is spent trying (and mostly failing) to convince his daughters that homework is a useful way to spend their time. Prior to joining STAR, Steve was Head of Subtitling at the European Captioning Institute.

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