Technical vs. Scientific Translations: Alternatives and Differences

Idea TranslationsLife SciencesTechnical vs. Scientific Translations: Alternatives and Differences
The main challenges of translating scientific materials

Although all linguistic services require accuracy, specialized translation implies a much higher level of expertise and professionalism. It takes years of training to achieve a thorough understanding of the terminology and jargon that are typical of scientific texts. If the translator does not have this specialized knowledge, the translation will fail.

There are two types of specialized translations that are often confused for one another: technical and scientific translation. What are the differences and when to choose one over the other?

Technical Translation: Features and Specifications

This is a domain of professional translation that deals with educational or instructional documents. It requires a strict process, because it usually includes technical manuals or instructions, particularly in the industrial field.

The manufacturing industry —which represents more than 16% of the global GDP— is one of the sectors that frequently requires specialized translation services.
Source: BusinessWire

The technology areas that are experiencing the greatest growth are microelectronics, information technology, telecommunications, automatization, biotechnology and laser technology. All these fields share one characteristic: constant innovation, and it is key for translators to always be up to date on the latest trends and their evolution.

Technical texts are diverse; these are some examples:

  • Marketing or industrial patents obtained by product manufacturers.
  • Advertisements or marketing leaflets.
  • Instruction manuals.
  • Product catalogs and information.

What does scientific translation entail?

It covers the translation of science-related content, where the translator needs to be proficient in the use of specific terms and abbreviations for the relevant field. Scientific translation includes medicine, pharmacology, chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, geography, mathematics, education and philosophy, among others.

In the field of medicine, for example, the so-called specialty languages were born out of the need to share scientific and specific knowledge in different areas during the 16th Century, and then prospered and developed between the 17th and 18th Centuries. Therefore, this kind of translation requires a thorough understanding of the fields using a systematic approach to terminology.

Scientific texts are objective, precise, verifiable; they follow a logical order, and fulfill a mostly argumentative and descriptive function. Their goal is to share the results of research. In this kind of translations, there is no space for ambiguity.

These are some examples of scientific texts that frequently require translation:

  • Scientific papers or abstracts.
  • Preliminary reports (preliminary results of research).
  • Posters (showing final or preliminary results of research at a conference for the scientific community).
  • Theses and final projects.
  • Dissertations.
  • Bibliographic Reviews.
  • Essays.
  • Presentations and conferences.

There are globally around 30,000 scientific journals that publish more than 2 million papers each year.
Source: University World News

Optimal Translation: Assessing and Selecting

Historically, there has been a tendency to speak of technical-scientific translation, given that the limits between the scientific and technical fields are often blurry, and topics tend to overlap. For instance, atoms are studied both in physics and in nuclear technology. However, it is important to make a distinction when requesting a specialized translation.

This is the definition of Silvia Gamero Pérez, Spanish teacher of specialized translation and interpreting:

“Science is an aggregate of theoretical knowledge, while the technical field deals with the application of that knowledge to industrial (technological sciences) or soil (agronomic sciences) exploitation.”

In this respect, technical translation usually focuses on executive and practical matters, while scientific translation deals with theoretical and informative texts.

But beyond the differences, in both cases we need to find balance between context, legibility and accuracy in the translated document. Therefore, when requesting a specialized translation, it is crucial to consider the information above, apart from the company’s goals and needs. This is the only way to ensure the best decision is made when choosing the right people for the right translation.

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