The Importance of Language Pairs in Academic and Professional Translation

Academic and Professional Translation

Academic and Professional Translation

When publishing a professional or academic paper, you cannot afford to have errors in translation.

The story is often told of the time Coors, an American beer company, learned an important translation lesson when they first attempted to market their product in Spain. At the time, Coors’ slogan was “Turn it Loose.” They did not realize that, in Spain, the translated phase had the common interpretation of “Suffer From Diarrhea.” This mistake, while humorous, cost the company millions of dollars.

While some translating errors lead to laughable gafs, others are truly tragic. Willie Ramirez was only 18-years old when he was taken to the hospital. His family listed his problem as “intoxicado”, a Spanish word relating that he ingested something which might have made him feel ill. The medical interpreter translated the word to intoxicated, and the doctor treated Ramirez like a drug overdose. By the time they realized their error, the bleeding on Ramirez’s brain had caused permanent damage. He is now a quadriplegic.

Sadly, these are not isolated examples of poor translation services and oversight. In fact, they are quite common in the absence of expert translators who understand the differences between translation and transliteration, possess a mastery of the language pair in question, and have a system of accuracy verification in place. Such errors are also common with base-level machine translation and pivot translations, where there is an interim language between the source and target languages.

Seek an Expert in Language Pair Translation

An expert translator must have a mastery of at least two languages: the language the original document was written in (source language) and the language into which you want the document translated (target language). These two languages, the source and target language, are known as a language pair. For a translation to be accurate, the translator must have mastery in both languages and be able to understand the meaning behind the words and not just transliterate words themselves. In the examples above, the translators had a working knowledge of the languages but not the cultural nuances needed to effectively translate the information. A similar example can be found by typing is a simple phrase into Google Translate. Type in the English phrase “take out the heart” and translate it into Spanish. Google translates the phrase to “llevará a cabo el corazón”. Translate this back into English and you receive the English equivalent of “will hold the heart”. While this is overly simplified, the challenges are very real when there is not a bilingual expert overseeing the translation.

Beware of Translators Using Pivot Languages

Translation discrepancies are compounded severely when an additional language is placed between the source and target languages. For example, if you write your paper in French and have it translated into German you need a translator who is an expert in the French-German language pair. What happens when somebody wants to translate the German translation of your paper into English? In this example, German becomes a pivot language, and unless the translator knows that the source language was French and not German, and is able to work backwards through the French, your translation will be an English version of a German translation which will likely be riddled with syntax errors.

The difficulty in language pair translation grows as the differences between the languages and cultures grow. Spanish-Italian, French-German, or Russian-Polish are not nearly so difficult as English Chinese or Hindi-Japanese. In situations where the language pairs are more difficult, it becomes increasingly important that your translator have a complete and total mastery of both languages.

Find Your Language Pair Solution Through Specialization

Realistically, a single company cannot provide an expertise in every language pair. For example, one online company advertises translation in 200 languages and over 36,000 language pairs. While the machine translations from their cross-language database many prove sufficient for many basic services, important business, academic, medical, or scientific papers should never be entrusted to this much lower level of translation that lacks native-speaker quality.

To ensure your documents are complete and accurate, your translator must be an expert in the source and target languages and be able to identify linguistic, semantic, and cultural differences in parallel texts. This ensures that the reader of the translated document understands the exact concepts, instructions, and context purposed by the author.

Look for Subject Matter Fluency in Your Translator

In addition to native-level fluency and a focus on specific language pairs, you will want to seek a translator who has an advanced knowledge of the subject matter being translated. Translators who posses advanced degrees in the subject areas ensure complex and technical concepts are accurately presented in the target language.

You are serious about your research, data, and content. You have spent countless hours and days, perhaps even years, gathering and compiling your information. Do not entrust your books or presentations to a translator or translation service that cannot guarantee you 100 percent translation accuracy. Take the time to ensure expertise in translation language pairs as well as the subject matter being translated. Your work is flawless, ensure your translated documents reflect this same level of quality and excellence.

This post is written by Robert Stitt, a content writer with Ulatus.

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