Tips and Tricks for Locating Technical Terminology and Creating Terms
by Máté Varga, Senior Linguist at Albion Languages
Certain fields and topics impose different requirements and challenges on translators and proofreaders. In technical texts, one of the trickiest tasks (and main pitfalls) is finding the right terminology to use throughout the texts. Naturally, in some projects, clients make our lives easier by providing compulsory or reference glossaries and termbases to reduce terminology research work during translation and proofreading.
However, there are situations where linguists cannot avoid needing to find their way out of being “lost for words” and, to be honest, this is how it should be. After all, rather than simply inserting terms from an automatic database, technical translation is very much about finding the exact right words. When reading a poorly-translated technical manual, it is the inappropriate terminology that first catches the professional user’s eye, sometimes to the point of making the reader completely at a loss as to what the specific terms used in the text might mean, thus rendering the translation basically useless, no matter how nicely it is written. In the following, we would like to share some general tips and tricks to avoid such situations.
- Never rely on a single source – with today’s abundance of online dictionaries and terminology databases, it might be tempting to just look up, say, a German term on dict.cc, linguee.de or glosbe.com and then put the first English counterpart listed there into your translation. In a great number of cases, this might actually suffice, but it is very hard to tell when it will lead to complete failure. Therefore, it is always advisable to double-check the actual usage and meaning of terms you have taken from an online dictionary. You’ll surely be surprised when realising that the term you have just inserted in your translation is not actually used by native speakers at all or is very ambiguous – and, what’s more, you can still make the necessary corrections at this point before it is too late. While such dictionaries and databases might provide you with an excellent starting point in finding the right term, their results should never be adopted without first properly double-checking them. Remember that they are subject to a quite limited degree of peer review and some of their content hasn’t been translated and/or checked by native-speaking professionals and subject matter experts. Therefore, in entirely relying on their content as a professional linguist, there is a good chance you will merely end up repeating someone else’s mistake or uninformed guess. Usually, it takes professional expert linguists not only to create new translated content but also to choose from and/or review and eventually, if necessary, discard existing translations and replace them with the correct ones.
- Verify term usage among the potential target audience – Although you might get a rush of relief to find some Google hits for the term you have just entered into your translation, don’t forget that your job is not finished here. After all, your task is to create a fully-fledged English technical text which will be read by English-speaking professionals and needs to offer them the same levels of readability and clarity as the German source text does for German-speaking professionals. Therefore, it is important to verify not only whether a term is used in general but also whether it is used by said professionals in the relevant contexts. For example, if you are on the look out for the right name for a less common car part, you can’t just lay back and move on once you have found several Google hits for the term you have just picked, rather you should consciously refine your search in order to make sure it is really commonly used by the potential target audience. For this purpose, it is good practice to place your term in quotation marks and search for it along with a popular and widely driven car model. Usually, this will quickly take you to the genuine English owners’ forums, road test reports and all sorts of similar resources for that particular model where you can easily check whether the (actual or potential) English-speaking target audience actually uses that term. In the case of other technical topics, it is advisable to Google the part name in conjunction with the name of a relevant manufacturer and/or trade journal based in an English-speaking country. Another specific field where “conscious” Googling should be used is in the translation of standard parts such as specific screw or washer types in accordance with a given DIN standard. In such cases, your search should include the DIN number of the part so you can verify how it is “officially” referred to. Time-consuming and nit-picking as this may seem, this is actually one of the principal methods to ensure your technical translation is up to professional standards and, as such, not something you should consider saving time on.
- Create the appropriate term yourself – Given the huge variety of topics and the highly specialised nature of the texts handled in technical translations, you might well come across very specific terms you simply cannot find any sensible translations for by using the methods outlined above. This may be the case, for example, with the names of highly manufacturer-specific parts or procedures. In this case, you might consider creating the appropriate translation for the term yourself, i.e. if the reference files or your online search provides certain clues about the appearance, purpose or working principle of what is in question, you can create the appropriate translation yourself by following a descriptive approach (“something intended for a particular purpose”, “something situated at a particular location”, “something with a special feature”) rather than looking for a word-for-word match.
- Create glossaries – Once you have verified that a term really exists and is actually widely-used, you should make sure that you don’t forget it so you can ensure the consistency of your translations and avoid having to carry out the painstaking terminology research process once again. This can be achieved by creating glossaries from your results. This just takes minutes, but it can save you precious time in the future.