Barriers To Translating Scientific Text

Complications and difficulties on translating a scientific text

A key factor in the success of communication is written documents in a correct translation, and while translating scientific articles or texts this process can become difficult.

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Barriers To Translating Scientific Text
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Truly only scientists who are trained linguists can truly understand the terminology and keep the concepts in context. With the basis of their personal experience as professionals they can easily translate an experiment they have just done.

Scientific knowledge is needed to be able to translate a scientific text. Some Scientists though can’t write well, and make mistakes in spelling and grammar in their own language which hardens the process.

This is why there are master degrees you can take. It’s available for the common translator who wants to specialize in translating certain areas of science. And translating certain areas of science, you could find the knowledge gained valuable. You find yourself learning all the time, learning new words and expressions, and learning about new advances in the scientific subject you are studying.

But there are also some disadvantages when you translate this kind of text. Like I said before, unless you are a specialized person on the area you’re going to have lots of difficulties on translating some scientific texts. And a translator just can’t expect that every single text he gets is going to be about the specific area he is specialized on.

This is why scientific texts are a very difficult kind of texts to translate and most of the times you have to ask someone specialized on the area to help you with some words or simply to revise the document.


An interview was made to a male graduate student from the Translation course. We arranged this interview in order to see how his career as a translator was going.

He said that after graduating, the work market was very difficult to get into. There aren’t a lot of jobs for people who just graduated and don’t have any master’s degree on any specific area. This student in particular wants to take a master’s degree but wanted to start working at the same time.

He said that he got his first work opportunity when he was asked to translate a few pages of a children’s book. It wasn’t that difficult according to what he said but he said that the kind of texts he wants to translate is scientific texts. However, these require not only a master’s degree but also a lot of knowledge on the specific area that you are trying to translate.

He mentioned that his plans for the future are to specialize on the chemistry area in order to do translations of books. He wants this because he knows some people who study chemistry and their books are all in English and some of them have some difficulty in understanding what the book refers to.

He is therefore aware that, to do this he will have to specialize in that area and get a lot of knowledge of the vocabulary, because scientific vocabulary is most of the time very difficult to understand and translate.

When finally asked why he chose this area of translation, he said convincingly that he loves challenges.

A master’s degree that aims for translations’ scientific area

“Specialized translation” is the name given to this master’s degree that takes place in University of Aveiro and leads translation studies to a specific area of translation: the scientific area, more specifically the health and life sciences area.

Started in 2007, this master’s degree has 2 years duration, takes place in University of Aveiro in the languages and cultures department, and has a total of 30 slots.

This degree is accessible for students with a translation degree or a legal equivalent and other degrees providing knowledge of foreign languages or people with a professional, scientific or scholar recognized by University of Aveiro commission coordinating the master’s. It has the purpose of giving the owners of a degree on languages area, especially the ones that graduated in translation, an opportunity of developing their translation skills on the health and life sciences area. Students acquire advanced scientific knowledge and work methods that will allow them to do a quality translation job on the area of expertise. They are also given a deeper knowledge of foreign languages chosen, analysis and investigation skills, and project management competences within the specialized translation area.

The formation given by this master’s develops and enlarges the competences on the scientific area of translation giving the opportunity to acquire deep knowledge in the area of health and life sciences and also provides the student the tools to be successful at managing and creating projects which will contribute to an improvement of the success in the work market.

Requirements to be a scientific translator

Translating isn’t that simple. It involves a great amount of skills to be a good translator – Especially to translate scientific texts. According to London Institute of Linguistics, one should have the following skills:

High knowledge on the topics mentioned on the target text to be translated;

An imagination capable of describing processes and equipment with a high level of success;

A certain level of intelligence which needs to be able to fill missing links in the original text to the target translated language;

A sense of discrimination so that the translator can choose the right equivalent term from his source of information;

Ability to understand and use concise, precise and clear languages;

Experience in translation, especially in the scientific field (in order to be familiar with most of the target vocabulary).

Apart from these requirements, nevertheless, people must be aware that there are other things to take into consideration, most importantly the deadlines for deliveries, which means, every skill must be used in order to reach effectiveness in a short period of time.

Scientific versus Literary Translation

We are about to list some characteristics of scientific against literary translation. In scientific texts we have to limit the meaning of words to its general concept. Scientific content is concerned with horizontal structure of the world while literary content is concerned with vertical structure of the world. So, on one hand we will have a horizontal relation between width and breadth, which testifies merits of scientists and technologists, and on the other hand, we will have a vertical relation between height and depth, which testifies merits of artists and poets. The product of poets is essentially a product of height and depth which has either been brought down or lifted up so as to fit into the width and breadth of life itself – acquiring a horizontal dimension; the product of scientists lacks the intuitive complexity and wealth of experience characteristic of poets.

Scientists speak within familiar and concrete realities of the everyday life. If they need to move, their movement rarely goes against the accomplishment of new horizons or new perspectives – they always remain within the concrete, tangible and objective reality, within the horizontal structure. It is important to add that these dimensions – horizontal or vertical – are fundamentally dependent on the perceiving reader. Both self-relationship and world-relationship are unified through the symbolic system of identification commonly known as language. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean exactly that these dimensions can be extended during an individual’s cultural experience and life-time. The relation of the horizontal and vertical dimensions seems like two extremes, but, when unified they transmit a harmony of opposites. Hence, to span them, it seems so impossible that even a highly-sophisticated computer technology can’t achieve such thing.

Below, you will find differences between science and literature:

Scientific Texts

Literary Texts

– Denotative adequacy.

– Unbridled connotation.

– Precision.

– Vagueness.

– Reason.

– Emotion.

– Truth to particular reality.

– Truth to the ideal and universal.

– Generalization.

– Concretion.

– Referential meaning.

– Emotive meaning.

– Denotation.

– Connotation.

– Lexical affixation.

– Grammatical affixation.

– Idiomatic expressions are rare.

– Idiomatic expressions are frequent.

– Use of abbreviation, acronym, and registers.

– Very few abbreviations, acronyms, and registers.

– Standard expressions.

– Almost all varieties.

– Use of scientific terminology, specialized items, and formulae.

– No use of scientific terminology, or formulae.

– No use of elements of figurative language.

– Expensive use of figurative language.

Difficulties of scientific translations

Scientific translations, like every translation, need to be done with maximum attention. If you want to do the best you can, you have to know the basic strategies of translation:

You need to know as much as possible about the specific area of the text that you’re about to translate.

You should search the sites where you can find the full information about the translating area.

Sometimes it is better to have some consultation with a specialist on the translating area.

Don’t translate more than 2 pages per day.

Don’t try to translate fast because you will have bad results. Only good translators, who have years of practice can do a fast and good job.

You should use good translation dictionaries like IATE which have European quality.

You have to be critic to yourself and be self-disciplined.

In the area of scientific translation you will face problems like the equal word for the translating language. Sometimes you will not be able to translate the word. In this case you should put the original word in Italic and write the meaning in brackets. You should translate the text like if it is the work of your life because if something goes wrong, the responsibilities are all yours. Don’t accept a translation assignment just for the pay; be sure you are able to do it. Someone catches you with work in a slipshod manner, people will never ask you to do more. A good scientific translator normally has his own specialization and translates texts with maximum quality only in his area.

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