Why a Subject Matter Expert is Essential for a Good Translation?

Subject Matter Expert

If you are looking to get a text translated, you may have come across the concept of an SME (Subject Matter Expert). An SME is someone who is immersed in the world of the text you need to translate and has plenty of experience with that field—in both the target and the source language.

Here’s why you should hire an SME to translate your material:

Each Field Has Its Own Jargon

If you’ve ever tried to read an academic paper in a field you have never studied, you probably had a lot of trouble understanding it, even if it was written in your native tongue. The reason for this is that each field has its own internal language for discussing the topics that are specific to that field.

Unfamiliar Terms

For example, you will probably come across a lot of words you’ve never heard before. If an article mentions a “perianth,” unless you have studied botany, you probably don’t know that that term refers to the outer part of a flower.

Most translators who don’t have expertise in botany wouldn’t know that either—and they probably won’t be familiar with the term in the target language.

A good translator would then research the term, perhaps consulting an expert in the field, but even if they manage to grasp the meaning of the term, they won’t necessarily know how to use it correctly in context. Furthermore, the intense research required to accurately understand and translate the term can waste a lot of time.

Terms You Thought Were Familiar…

There may also some terms that a lay person would be familiar with, but that are used completely differently in that specific field.

For example, in lay language, the word “theory” means an unsubstantiated idea. In the field of science, however, it refers to an explanation for some aspect of the natural world that has been confirmed through repeated testing. This is a very significant difference! A translator could have an exceptional command of both languages, but if they have not been immersed in the world of science, they may not be aware of this difference.

These kinds of terms can be even more problematic than terms the translator may not know. In the former case, at least they realize the limits of their knowledge. In the latter, a translator may not even be aware of those limits and won’t know that there’s something to research!

These Misunderstandings Have Consequences

Mistakes that are due to lack of familiarity with the jargon result in a translation that is inaccurate and unprofessional. We use written texts to communicate important ideas to people, and an inaccurate translation would fail to get that message across.

At best, this can cause you some embarrassment. But in some fields, it can have far worse consequences. Legal terms, for example, are used in a very precise way in legal documents, and having the wrong word can completely change the meaning of the clause. Even worse, in medical and pharmaceutical contexts, misunderstandings can endanger lives.

An SME can ensure that your translation is accurate, professional, and clear. Their work will be smooth and fast, because they won’t need to pause every few words or sentences to research an unfamiliar term. And when research is required, they will know exactly which sources to consult and how to accurately apply the answers. That’s why hiring an SME for a translation is worth the extra resources it may take to find one; it’s an investment that will ultimately save you time, money, and aggravation.

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