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Writing for Translation

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Kennedy Kierans & Mary Metzger

Published: November 2011 in Features, Meeting Reviews, Translation and Localization

Translation is rarely word-for-word.

Anthony Michael presented a lively talk on “Writing for Translation” at the most recent STC-Canada West Coast chapter meeting on November 15.

Anthony is fluent in English, French, Spanish, and Greek and he has worked for the Government of Canada, with private companies, and as an independent consultant. He often needs to remind clients that “translation is rarely word-for-word.” Creativity, cultural knowledge and a sense for implied meaning helps translators provide the best results.  Anthony commented that translators deal with many types of documents, including books, websites, movie subtitles, commercial products, and of course, technical documents. Technical translations require knowledge about the topic’s terminology. The documents may discuss medical procedures, business administration, pharmaceutical production, and much more. Translators likely will develop expertise in topic categories; some large organizations employ translation terminology specialists who ensure that terms are translated correctly into the target language.


Anthony Michael presents translation techniques to STC audience

Anthony emphasized that cultural understanding is key, even when translating technical or workplace documents. For example, he recalled reading a business operations document that had been written by an American for distribution to French affiliates. The language included baseball metaphors that, even in translation, would not be understood by the French employees. The metaphors (e.g. out in left field), needed to be tweaked so that the meaning would be clear. Similarly, technical translations may need to be adapted to accommodate different dialects of the same language. 

Translators use both paper and digital tools in their work. General and specialized dictionaries and grammar texts are used along with Internet resources. Among the software translation programs in common use are Termium Plus, MultiTrans, and SDL Trados. Termium Plus is produced by the Government of Canada and it is a linguistic data bank for English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. MultiTrans and SDL Trados are proprietary services used by corporations and governments worldwide. Each of these helps translators as they revise, proofread, and edit documents. By the close of Anthony’s presentation, we had a deeper appreciation for the nuance of translation. The next time we read a well-written imported product’s user manual, we can thank a translator!

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