7 Problems with Scientific Translation

Erica Sunarjo

All over the world, scientists are conducting groundbreaking research, writing compelling papers, and educating people on a variety of topics. Everyone benefits when scientific information is disseminated across the Globe. Of course, not all scientists speak the same language. As a result, scientific documentation, texts, research notes, and other materials must be translated, so they are available to anyone who can benefit from them.

Thankfully, there are services that offer scientific translation and localization.  However, the process is not always as simple as one might assume. If translation professionals don’t take special care, mistakes can happen. Here are 7 problems with scientific translations that both translators and members of the scientific community must be aware of.

Lack of Translator Expertise

Scientific and technical translations can cover an exceptionally wide range of industries and academic disciplines. Some of these are quite advanced. Others are simply unique and require very specific skills and background to understand. It can be difficult to find translators with the right expertise to execute accurate and certifiable translations. People who need such translations struggle to find qualified translation professionals and often fail to get final translations that are accurate.

In these situations, translation services and their clients must take extra steps to ensure accuracy. This might include having subject matter experts in addition to translation professionals verify documents, provide needed details, and assist those involved in the product to ensure accuracy.

Unclear Source Documents

Even scientific documents can contain idioms, jargon, and phraseology that can make translation challenging. In addition to this, scientific workers and researchers may use different words and phrases to reference scientific and clinical terms. There’s also the issue of false friends. These are words that sound very similar in two languages but are actually distinct. This can be further confused by the fact that in scientific research many false friends have some similarities. Something as simple as the term ‘medical device’ can cause refusing results due to the false friends phenomenon.

Failing to Understand the Target Audience

It’s important to remember that the intended audience for a translated document may not have the same needs, background, or experience as the audience that was the target of the original document. For example, a set of research documents written in English may have been written for research scientists and other experienced professionals. The translation, on the other hand, may be intended for business professionals who are evaluating whether to fund similar research in another country. As a result, the target audience may not be able to understand certain jargon or technical terms.

In order to ensure that the translation is useful to the target audience, the translation professional may need to add annotations with the assistance of the client. This can lead to additional charges and extended delivery dates.

Text Length and Detail

Scientific and technical translations can be quite detailed and lengthy. Sometimes, more so than clients realize when planning for these projects or doing price calculations. This can lead to frustration on all ends and can cause translation projects to go over budget.

In addition to this, the length and complexity of scientific translations can create a higher risk of error. This is concerning as accuracy is extraordinarily important in scientific translations. This work can impact the medical and healthcare industries, engineering, and other industries where safety is paramount.

Attempts to Use Literal Translations

 While translators shouldn’t take creative license with facts and figures, it’s a mistake to assume that all scientific translations must be done completely literally and word for word. Even research documents in other scientific paperwork are likely to contain language that must be properly interpreted so that it retains meaning for the target audience.

 For example, an academic paper might contain interviews with test subjects. Translators and researchers will need to work together to ensure that the content of those interviews is communicated from one language to another completely and accurately.

 This is just one of many reasons why it is imperative that human translators are used for these projects. Machine translation simply cannot provide the contextual insights required.

Failing to Check Translations While Projects Are in Progress

As established above, scientific and Technical translations are often lengthy and detailed. One translation mistake could potentially be propagated across thousands of pages. A single mathematical error can throw calculations off to the extent that the final product is worthless. This can be extraordinarily costly in terms of time and resources. If these mistakes aren’t caught early in the process, entire projects may be at risk.

 Translators and their clients must identify areas where mistakes are most likely to happen. They should establish project benchmarks that include double-checking content for accuracy. This will increase the likelihood of errors being caught early in the process.

Not Providing Translators with a Glossary

Scientific documentation that needs to be translated often contains abbreviations, jargon, and other terms that are unique to a specific scientific discipline, the organization that created the document, or a specific industry. This can be confusing to translators who must find and verify these phrases to ensure they are translating them correctly. A translation glossary is a central source of definitions that translators can access that contains the intended meaning of any words or phrases that might be ambiguous.

Parting Thoughts It’s important for both translation professionals and those in the scientific community to be aware of any potential mistakes that can happen during the translation process. Considering that so many of these translations are done in the areas of pharmaceuticals, healthcare, defense, military, and research, accuracy can be a matter of public health and safety. Fortunately, these potential risks can be mitigated by taking the right precautions and working with qualified translation professionals.

Erica Sunarjo graduated from South Texas College majoring in Marketing and Creative Writing. She used her knowledge to make a difference in the realm of business copywriting and invested heavily in traveling and language learning. She keeps track of the latest trends in IT and technologies, blogs about efficient strategies in education and business coaching, holds educational webinars. Right now Erica is the most efficient writer in The Word Point.

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