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Poll: Should a translator be an expert in the field in which (s)he translates?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

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Mar 4, 2013

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Should a translator be an expert in the field in which (s)he translates?".

This poll was originally submitted by Michelle de Abreu Aio. View the poll results »



 

Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:24
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Yet another poll where the only reasonable answer is "other" Mar 4, 2013

There are many shades of Grey (sorry "grey") and there are many stages between someone who is an expert and someone who is clueless. Using word expert suggests that only people capable of practising in a given field would be able to undertake translation. So only physicians would be able to translate medical texts, only attorneys legal ones, etc.

Obviously it is not true. However translator should be very familiar with a field in which he or she translates, however it is very far from being an expert. On the other hand translator needs many skills which are redundant in case of an expert, like linguistic competence, using CAT tools, and many others.

BR
S


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 21:24
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Totally agree! Mar 4, 2013

Stanislaw Czech, MCIL wrote:

There are many shades of Grey (sorry "grey") and there are many stages between someone who is an expert and someone who is clueless. Using word expert suggests that only people capable of practising in a given field would be able to undertake translation. So only physicians would be able to translate medical texts, only attorneys legal ones, etc.

Obviously it is not true. However translator should be very familiar with a field in which he or she translates, however it is very far from being an expert. On the other hand translator needs many skills which are redundant in case of an expert, like linguistic competence, using CAT tools, and many others.

BR
S


 

Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 23:24
Turkish to English
+ ...
Agree Mar 4, 2013

Stanislaw Czech, MCIL wrote:

There are many shades of Grey (sorry "grey") and there are many stages between someone who is an expert and someone who is clueless. Using word expert suggests that only people capable of practising in a given field would be able to undertake translation. So only physicians would be able to translate medical texts, only attorneys legal ones, etc.

Obviously it is not true. However translator should be very familiar with a field in which he or she translates, however it is very far from being an expert. On the other hand translator needs many skills which are redundant in case of an expert, like linguistic competence, using CAT tools, and many others.

BR
S


I agree that a translator, ideally, will have a good knowledge of the fields in which s/he works, but this will almost certainly fall short of being considered to be an 'expert'.

In the years that I have worked as a legal translator from Turkish, I have built up a good working knowledge of the Turkish legal system, reinforced by reading legal text books, but this does not mean that I would be capable of practicing as a lawyer in Turkey, let alone having work published in legal journals.

[Edited at 2013-03-04 09:12 GMT]


 

Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
Formal training Mar 4, 2013

As stated above, expert is not the right choice of word here, but I do believe that a person should have formal training in their specialism. If you don't have formal training in an area in which you translate you are a general translator merely with translating experience in that area. General translation is indeed a specialism. All those translators who studied languages at uni or have done translation courses specialise in general translation. In an ideal world, a translator would be both a generalist and have a specialism.

 

Antonio Fajardo  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:24
Member (2011)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Don't agree Mar 4, 2013

Stanislaw Czech, MCIL wrote:

There are many shades of Grey (sorry "grey") and there are many stages between someone who is an expert and someone who is clueless. Using word expert suggests that...
S


Polls with a high percentage of "Other" give no relevant information, we can always reason why our option is not available and choose "other", but the point is finding the closest option to what we believe. There are even people answering "Other" to some clear yes/no questions!


 

Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:24
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
It sure won't do any harm Mar 4, 2013

Being an expert in the field is a definite plus. Not only because it saves the translator some valuable time due to their expert knowledge of the field and its terminology, but, IMO, it also increases the "fun factor" when the translation flows smoothly without the need to conduct (too much) research.icon_wink.gif

 

John Cutler  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not necessarily, but... Mar 4, 2013

I answered not necessarily, but translators need to be aware that some fields have "Standard Terms", pharmaceuticals for example.

Just any old translation that sounds good simply doesn't measure up to industry standards and can even cause a client's documents to be rejected by national authorities, which obviously reflects badly on the well-meaning but sadly uninformed translator.


 

DianeGM  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:24
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Not necessarily ... Mar 4, 2013

Being knowledgeable is a must I would say.
As Thayenga said, being an expert wouldn't hurt, would it?
General knowledge of source and target language and how to translate from one to the other are also pretty essential.


 

Alexander Kondorsky  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 23:24
English to Russian
+ ...
Not expert but aware of Mar 4, 2013

Of course translator cannot do any good job is he/she is completely ignorant in the field, however, being expert is not necessary. After all, it is impossible to be expert in many fields and it is impossible to be a successful translator being limited to a few.

 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:24
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, you definitely do. Mar 4, 2013

You cannot translate any text without knowing exactly what it means -- it cannot be done by just translating words and phrase. If you want to be a literary translator, you will not be able to translate novels, or non-fiction, if you do not know all the writing techinques that writers employ. Poetry is usually translated by the people who write poetry themselves, and know a lot about various poetic tools. You cannot translate legal texts, if your knowledge of the legal field is less than the one of a really experienced paralegal, or a JD, in the US. Most importantly, however, you cannot translate medical texts, especially medical trials, if your knowledge is not similar to the kind a doctor, or a medical student of the final years of study would have. You cannot translate things about nuclear power, if your knowledge is not similar to the knowledge of at least an engineer in this field.

 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 22:24
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
You should be an expert translator Mar 4, 2013

It varies from field to field, but it is most important to be an expert translator with sufficient knowledge of the subject area to know where to watch for pitfalls and how to deal with them.

You need to understand the terminology well enough not to be fooled by false friends, and to be able to write in the target language in the correct register, with the expected collocations and terminology etc.

You can be a good translator without being a hands-on expert in every subject area you work in. Otherwise some of us would never have time to translate!


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
A matter of opinion. Mar 4, 2013

LilianBoland wrote:

You cannot translate any text without knowing exactly what it means ... You cannot translate legal texts, if your knowledge of the legal field is less than the one of a really experienced paralegal, or a JD, in the US. Most importantly, however, you cannot translate medical texts, especially medical trials, if your knowledge is not similar to the kind a doctor, or a medical student of the final years of study would have. You cannot translate things about nuclear power, if your knowledge is not similar to the knowledge of at least an engineer in this field.


Having succesfully translated texts in the fields mentioned, I'm afraid that on the basis of my own personal experience, I have to disagree. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I prefer to decide for myself whether or not I will be able to translate a text properly, whatever the field. In more specialised areas, feedback or input from experts may occasionally be required, but in my case this has been a rare occurrence.


 

Allison Wright  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:24
German to English
+ ...
With Neilmac Mar 4, 2013

neilmac wrote:

LilianBoland wrote:

You cannot translate any text without knowing exactly what it means ... You cannot translate legal texts, if your knowledge of the legal field is less than the one of a really experienced paralegal, or a JD, in the US. Most importantly, however, you cannot translate medical texts, especially medical trials, if your knowledge is not similar to the kind a doctor, or a medical student of the final years of study would have. You cannot translate things about nuclear power, if your knowledge is not similar to the knowledge of at least an engineer in this field.


Having succesfully translated texts in the fields mentioned, I'm afraid that on the basis of my own personal experience, I have to disagree. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I prefer to decide for myself whether or not I will be able to translate a text properly, whatever the field. In more specialised areas, feedback or input from experts may occasionally be required, but in my case this has been a rare occurrence.


I cannot speak for medical texts per se, but there are many legal texts (and again, it really does depend what you include in this field) which I am more than competent to handle, as there are several other fields for which I have neither academic qualifications nor job experience.

One common characteristic amongst translators is their love for learning things and about things. I have a wide range of interests, and read widely, and sometimes in considerable depth. Some people would call this studying, or "hard work". I simply like doing it; acquiring knowledge for its own sake, as it were. As a result, I have become familiar with a great many subjects - as have many people. I have not translated material in all these fields, but if something came across my desk which looked familiar to me, I would not hesitate to accept the job, quite confident that my translation would do justice to the text.

By the same token, there are fields where I have no desire at all to increase my knowledge. One obvious example would be aeronautical engineering. Even if I were to study and get qualifications in such a subject, my natural dislike for the subject would make me a poor translator of texts in that field.

I agree with Christine, too, as regards translation skill. All the expert knowledge in the world does not a good translator make.

[Edited at 2013-03-04 21:09 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-03-04 21:09 GMT]


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:24
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
disagree Mar 4, 2013

Thayenga wrote:

Being an expert in the field is a definite plus. Not only because it saves the translator some valuable time due to their expert knowledge of the field and its terminology, but, IMO, it also increases the "fun factor" when the translation flows smoothly without the need to conduct (too much) research.icon_wink.gif


For me, a lot of the fun is (getting digressed as I'm) doing the research


 
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