TECHNICAL EXPERTISE A MUST
Austin Becker and I just published an article in the American Translators Association‘s online journal, The ATA Compass. Titled “The Importance of Hiring Qualified Technical Translators,” Austin’s and my piece argues that scientific and technical translations absolutely demand the attention of a qualified linguist who also has a professional grasp of the particular scientific or technical field. In fact, it’s outright dangerous to trust such a task to someone unfamiliar with the subject matter, no matter how brilliant their dual-language skills.
The dangers of mistranslation
To say that technical mistranslation is dangerous is, in some cases, metaphorical, and in other cases literal. In the former, it can “kill” profits and hurt a company’s brand. In the latter, especially in some of the life sciences sectors, it could result in patient injury or death.
The cost of poor translation
Obviously, a bad translation can cost a life sciences, manufacturing or aerospace firm a lot of money: lawsuits, settlements, re-translation, etc. However, using an unqualified translator is expensive in other ways. Specifically, the layperson linguist is slow. Even if lightning fast at translating a novel, the non-subject-matter professional will quickly bog down at the nuclear engineering powerpoint presentation. She simply doesn’t know what the words mean. And, even if she laboriously looks them up, she still won’t grasp the full context. Even if she takes her time, she’s likely to produce a subpar translation.
Scientific and technical translation done right
Sure, a translator with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics will probably cost more than one with no specialist knowledge. But if you’re translating a set of engineering schematics for a nuclear cooling facility, it’s probably worth paying 5-10 cents more per word. In the end, there’s no substitute for a translation that’s not only linguistically accurate but also technically precise.