The Mechanics of Success in Engineering Translation

The Importance of Having the Right Expertise, Knowledge and Resources

Construction managers share ideas in library

How does engineering translation differ from literary translation? Aren’t words just words?

As Kevin Hendzel argues persuasively in his essay on technical translation, translation isn’t “about words. It’s about what the words are about.” For example, a translator who does not know what the concept of “torsion loads” refers to won’t be able to render the concept successfully in the target language.

The better the translator understands the source text, the more accurate and exact the final text will be. This means that a translator, in order to successfully complete an engineering translation job in the field of engineering, will have to already know quite a bit about the specific field of engineering in order to convey that meaning in the target language.

The Key to Success in Engineering Translation: Vocabulary

If subject matter expertise is key to a successful translation in the field of engineering then translators must be completely comfortable with key vocabulary in the field. In his study of the role of translation and interpretation in the field of engineering, Ying Shen argues that specialized vocabulary, along with knowledge of theory, is what makes for a successful technical translation. As Shen explains:

To obtain satisfaction in the process of engineering interpretation and translation, translators not only have to have theoretical knowledge and practical experience, but also need to know the industry-related vocabulary.

This industry-related vocabulary refers to the processes used in engineering such as product design, forging, smelting and quality testing. However, it extends beyond the specific technology and may relate to the potential legal, logistical and financial considerations of the project.

Be Ready and Agile

Engineering translators must be alert to problems and challenges in technical language, and have the linguistic ability to overcome these obstacles. Technology is often a field of neologisms. This means that the target language may not have specific terminology to describe the machine, process or part. In these cases, translators must make decisions about the most accurate way to communicate the idea in the source text using creative and agile choices in the target language.

Make Use of Good Resources

Working in engineering translation requires not only a solid underpinning in subject matter expertise, but also a knowledge of what resources are available for translators who run into challenges.

The IATE, or Interactive Terminology for Europe database, for example, is a valuable repository of a range of technical vocabulary in twenty-five different languages. Containing 1.4 million multilingual terms, the IATE database contains specific domains in which one can search for a host of terms in fields such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, industrial engineering and more. The IATE serves as a repository of valuable information in governmental, technical and legal terminology with the aim of standardizing terminology across languages.

Keys to Success in Engineering Translation

Academic scholars working in the field of engineering will be most successful if they hire an academic translator or academic editor who:

  • Has expertise in the specific subject matter
  • Knows specific technical vocabulary
  • Remains linguistically agile and ready to confront challenges creatively
  • Is familiar with relevant resources for searching terms and concepts

Following these steps will help scholars improve the quality of their research and ensure that it is understood by the target audience.


Receive an individualized quote!