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Technical translation

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Technical translation, or specialized translation, is a field of translation of texts concerning an art, a science, an activity, a skill or operation of a machine. Technical translation requires linguistic and translatological knowledge but also a good knowledge of the relevant technical field.

According to the definitions, technical translation is limited to technical domain (manuals, product data sheets, technical specifications …) and includes legal , IT, commercial translation …


The translator must not only have a perfect command of its working languages, he must also know perfectly the terminology of the field in which he translates. A translator must have documentary research skills and learn continuously via the Internet or from specialized books. A good translator also has a network of experts who can help in case of doubt. In this business, the error is prohibited. Misinterpretation of a manual of medical equipment, for example, can have serious consequences. When a translator makes this kind of odd, sees his reputation shattered and he may lose many customers.

Translation process

The translation process follows a rigorous methodology:

  1. Project reception.

  2. Establishment of specifications and deadlines, client validation.

  3. Constitution of a multilingual glossary, validated by the customer (in this stage the client sometimes provides its own glossary and even a style guide to follow in the interests of consistency).

  4. Translation phase, any questions for the client.

  5. First reviewed by an editor-translator. This is to make a first spell checking and verifying consistency between source and target text.

  6. Technical review, conducted by an expert if possible. It is concerned the target text only.

  7. “Linguistic Sign-off” quality control: last quality control that includes checking the layout.

  8. Customer delivery.

Translation tools

With the advent of the Internet and the computer age, the profession of technical translator has evolved considerably. On the market, there are now many “translation support tools” such as SDL Trados Studio, Nobodies, Wordfast, OmegaT, Deja Vu, Transit, SDLX, etc.

These software work on the principle of translation memories. A translation memory is a linguistic database that records the translator’s work for later use. All translations are stored this way there (in the form of language source and target pairs called “translation units”) and reused. More memory is powered, more the translation of subsequent documents is accelerated, allowing the translator to take on more projects and increase its turnover. Terminology tools are generally used in conjunction with translation memories.

Translation memories are an asset when a company wants to recycle all previously translated manuals. The fact remains that when a young high-technology company wants to begin a process of translation for the first time, the development of terminology records can be difficult and time consuming. This step is especially difficult when the translators and editors, mandated to do this work, are scattered across the globe.

The situation may be further complicated if the company wants to develop a unique vocabulary of its own. In this case:

  • Validated by an engineer, an employee of the company, is more than necessary.
  • An ongoing collaboration is required between the various stakeholders.
  • The questions/answers must be submitted quickly despite the jetlag.
  • Minimized project management is a need to identify costs.

Be careful not to confuse computer-assisted translation (the machine facilitating the work of man) and machine translation (man uses and review the work of the machine).

The technical translator


The technical translator can have different statuses.

  • Freelance translator
  • In-house translator
    • in a translation agency,
    • within a company in a sector involving translations.

Few opportunities exist in the public sector (ministries, United Nations, European Union, etc.), but these are available on the contest.


The remuneration of the translator may be on different bases: the word, page, contract, etc. In accordance with a study of the SFT, nearly 94% of translations missions are billed per word. Then come to the billing per page, time spent or even per characters. There can be significant price differences depending on the technicality of a text but also the rarity of the language

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