Revealing the Mysteries of Scientific Translation

Revealing the Mysteries of Scientific Translation

“Imagine how underdeveloped science would be, were it not for translation…Each language community would have to discover the entire body of scientific and technical knowledge for itself. This would not simply be a case of reinventing the wheel, but reinventing the wheel dozens, if not hundreds, of times.”

Jody Byrne, scientific and technical translator.


The Importance of Scientific Document Translation

Scientific translation encompasses a multitude of areas, from research proposals to patents, from academic papers to product labels. With such a wide reach, scientific companies are now facing the challenge of successfully distributing information in globalised industries that grow by the day.

The goals for spreading this information vary. Companies may wish to share knowledge between industry professionals, reach new customers, increase international profiles, be published in research journals, or fulfil legal language obligations.

Whatever the objective, without scientific translation, new products, research, and discoveries will remain out of reach to those who speak a different language, thus hindering progress and development.


Which Languages are The Most Helpful?
There are evidently benefits in having scientific documents translated into widely spoken languages in the scientific community, particularly English. The documents are accessible to more people and they become part of the expanding knowledge base in that area.

However, translating into lesser-spoken languages gives others the chance to fully understand the information in their own language and uninhibited by barriers.


Avoiding Scientific Translation Errors

In order to reach either of the above audiences, a translation needs to be high quality. An error-ridden document doesn’t only look unprofessional, it opens up the possibility for serious issues.

In 2017, a Chinese pharmaceutical company was issued with an official warning by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) after it misnamed an active ingredient in its anti-itch product. The Chinese company claims that a translation error caused the potentially dangerous misunderstanding, something that could have been avoided (read more in our article).

The margin of error in a scientific translation can be minimised by choosing a professional translation agency, but they need to have specific skills at their disposal.

Not only do translators need to be fluent in the required languages, they also need to be skilled writers who have in-depth, scientific knowledge in not one, but two languages.


Challenges for Professional Scientific Translators
In addition to this need for technical knowledge, there are other challenges scientific translators must to overcome to produce a first-rate piece of work.


Firstly, a deep understanding of the culture associated with both languages is key for success. How a person interprets a document depends not only on what information is given, but also how it is given. Is a conversational tone appropriate in the culture? Do native speakers use short or long sentences?

As an article from The Times states, “the language in which we communicate affects our confidence and our ability to persuade…and our judgements of the value of new ideas and their authors”. Information presented in an inappropriate way could undermine the scientific facts that are presented.


New Concepts

Secondly, there may be concepts, ways of working, job roles, procedures, etc. that do not exist in one of the countries or languages. These need to be fully researched and understood by the translator before they can be explained in the new language.


The Difficulty of the Text

Thirdly, technical information can make a text challenging. However, it may be that the way in which a text is written causes it to be difficult to understand; it might use idioms, flowery language, or be purposefully vague. An academic research paper will use a very different factual style to a description of a new product.


Choosing a Scientific Translator

Business owners are advised to look for the best translation and localisation company to suit their needs.

For scientific documents, the company should be well-established, experts in the industry, have the correct certifications, and preferably have testimonials from satisfied clients. Translation companies can also use translation memories, which act like glossaries of technical terms, that they can draw on to help you save time and money.

At TW Languages, we are ISO 17100 certified and specialise in the scientific industry. Our translators are linguists with in-depth knowledge of the nuances of language and we pride ourselves on adhering to the highest quality professional standards.

Get in touch to find out about our fast turnaround times, or to discuss your project in more detail.


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