In principle, scientific translation is one of the most complex fields of professional translation, although it may seem the opposite. Unlike literary texts, scientific language must be precise and leaves no room for interpretation.
Scientific translators might appear to have it easy compared to those specialising in other areas given that they don’t have to deal with figures of speech, word play, linguistic registers, or any sort of cultural context. As is often the case, this assumption is entirely incorrect. Scientific translation comes with a number of difficulties, and it requires a lot of preparation and even greater precision.
Scientific translations: taking responsibility
Medical-scientific translations are intended exclusively for scientific professionals, be them pharmacists, surgeons or chemists. These professionals must use the information contained in scientific translations to treat patients or to verify or continue important research in other countries. As such, complete accuracy is essential when translating these texts in order to guarantee information is correctly conveyed to the reader.
Even small mistakes can result in tragedy. A long time ago, a professional translation publication reported that a surgical instruction manual for a new type of knee prosthesis stated that the prostheses “didn’t require cement.” As a result, new prostheses were inserted into 47 patients in Berlin without the use of cement. The miscommunication was disastrous and the prostheses failed to remain in place. Of course, it wasn’t the manufacturer who was to blame, but the translators who worked on the instruction manual. The correct translation should have read “non-modular cemented prostheses.”
Formatting medical translations
Word is not commonly used to compose texts in the technical-scientific community. Instead, scientists use a complex text editor called LaTeX for a variety of technical reasons.
As such, it’s often convenient for translators specialising in scientific fields to master the use of LaTeX and process their work directly in this format. Otherwise, LaTeX specialists have to carefully convert translations from Word into the correct format, which ultimately lengthens delivery times.
Translating mathematical formulas
Many scientific translations contain formulas and graphs, which often need to be translated. As you can imagine, translators need to have specialised knowledge of mathematics to correctly carry out this fundamental part of the translation process.
Often, this sort of translation is entrusted to a mathematician who can deliver a text that is both formally and conceptually correct.
Translating articles in the psychology field
One particular specialism involves the translation of articles in the psychology field. Unlike other scientific translations, psychology articles require terminological accuracy in addition to being easy to read.
This approach is fundamental because psychology is a humanistic science that places great importance on language and communication skills. As such, a bad translation, or a text that’s easily recognised as a translation, can cause real damage to publications in this particular field.