What are the most difficult document types to translate?
The complexities of language make professional translations more difficult than most monolingual speakers can often appreciate. Understanding the rules of language is only the very first hurdle qualified linguists must master. The next challenge is to fully understand not only the speaking habits, culture and social norms of the targeted market, but also any external factors which may directly influence the quality of translation.
Every language is governed by a defined structure and standards, many of which have an entirely different framework than English. As a result, translators must often completely rearrange sentence structure in order to communicate effectively.
This is harder when communicating orally in ‘real-time’ for example, during business interpreting assignments. Nonetheless, the same rules apply when translating written documents and text materials. Therefore, it is easier for professional linguists to convert language into their mother tongue.
The language and social structures are only some of the difficulties professional translators face in their day-to-day work. The type of document itself which needs to be translated is yet another factor which can directly influence the level of complexity of a translation. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the most difficult documents to translate.
Due to medicine being a critical topic, even the slightest mistake can result in serious consequences for patients or medical professionals. As a result, due to the high financial and emotional risks associated with such mistakes, translating medical documents can be fraught with difficulties. Nonetheless, at the same time, the NHS constantly looks for ways to improve the communication support for foreign nationals and patients.
There have been several studies performed to determine the extent of errors within the medical records. One study which looked at medical translations into English from Romanian found an astonishing 638 common errors. Another study published by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that the number of errors dropped from 22% to 12% when the linguists had more than 100 hours experience.
When translating medical documents, linguists need to be familiar with medical abbreviations, idiomatic expressions, connotation, lexical meaning, terminology and syntax. Only linguists who have a qualified medical background should attempt to complete medical translations.
Because of the abbreviation methods doctors typically employ to write medical notes – and this is a global practice – the lexical meaning of a word may have evolved differently; word types can have meanings that are either propositional, presupposed, expressive or evoked.
Medical translation mismatches
Although human anatomy and known diseases are the same within any society, inexperienced translators can be easily confused if they mismatch the intended meaning of word types or have not understood the evolved abbreviation used by medical professionals.
Another, similar issue arises due to the fact that medical registers have evolved independently from one field to another. For example, the medical register in Europe typically uses synonyms but can have a meaning which is anatomical, clinical or pathological – depending on how and where the expression is used.
If medical translators do not have a prior, in-depth medical training and do not fully understand the medical sector, subtle nuances and details can easily be overlooked or mistranslated. Therefore, when translating a medical term from the source language into the target language, context is vitally important.
In medical translations, not only does the target language generally influence the translation, but also the audience the translated documents is designed for. This might be doctor to doctor, doctor to patient, doctor to nurse, or for a non-professional such as a carer or reporter or a business providing products/services for the medical sector.
What’s more, dictionaries only address part of the issue. Medical, and scientific, reference books are written for professionals within a specific field so that the register is not too cumbersome. The general consensus among professionals within the medical translation field is never accept a bilingual or multilingual dictionary as a trustworthy authority. They can help, but often contain too many synonyms without specific background information.
Translating legal documents
The legal sector is another field which uses a very specific and particular language, terms or jargon and poses problems with abbreviations. Subsequently, legal parlance requires the attention of professional linguists who have qualifications in law or an expert, in-depth understanding of the legal sector.
Translating legal documents requires an accurate interpretation. Failing to do so, could have critical consequences for the entire case. In the translation profession, law is regarded as one of the hardest source documents to translate, not just because of the terminology, but because of the abbreviations and poor quality of handwritten notes that, at times, are barely legible.
Furthermore, there are multiple situations where legal translations are required. As a result, the law profession relies on translation agencies to deliver high-quality translations quickly and regularly. Tight timescales can put added pressure on linguists.
When translating legal documents, it is important for translators to have a sound general knowledge of legal terminology across a number of specialist legal fields. Translators also have to keep up to date with the latest legislation and statutory requirements together with the intricacies of foreign policies, legal systems and culture.
As with the medical profession, the slightest error in a translated legal document could have serious ramifications for the parties involved. Complex points of law often need to be argued in court trials and if a legal document has been mis-translated, the misunderstanding can collapse an entire case.
Tackling legal translations
When a legally trained linguist is tasked with legal documents to translate, there are several important factors to bear in mind.
First of all, the source document is obviously structured in relation to the language rules of the legal system and culture of another country. The target text however, will be read by an audience that is probably unfamiliar with the legal system of the other country.
Because legislation is different in other countries, the terminology is also different. One rule in a foreign country may not exist in the UK for example, but may be similar to a law from another country. However, just because a law bears a likeness, it does not mean it is the same.
There are two resolutions to these types of problems depending on the circumstances. When translating legal documents for businesses, it is customary to translate two sets of documents in both the source language and the target language. This ensures that parties from both companies have a mutual understanding.
Legal documents also require footnotes to explain regulations specified in a source document that do not exist in the country the document is being translated for. It is for this reason why legal linguists have to be knowledgeable of statutory legislation in the country they are translating documents from and the legal system they are translating documents for.
There will be moments in the life of a legal translator where you have to be prepared to drop everything you are doing to meet strict deadline imposed by legal translations. It is not unheard of for an urgent translation request to land in your inbox during a court hearing.
Confidentiality is another issue that can arise in the translation industry, particularly for cases which involve sensitive information. Legal firms constantly face catch-22 situations between real-world obligations and fulfilling their role as a service provider to build the best case possible on behalf of their client. Translators are bound by the same data privacy laws as a lawyer.
Creative Marketing translations
Translation mistakes made by international companies in the past are well documented. But even though linguists understand the potential pitfalls of translating marketing documents in advance, that does not necessarily mean they are easier to translate.
By its very nature language is fraught with complexities. In the world of professional translators, there are no word-for-word solutions. And linguists can be guaranteed the most complex issues will inevitably arise whilst translating marketing copy. It is not unheard of for a five-word slogan to take longer to translate than a 200-word document. Often, a simple translation isn’t enough and the document must be conveyed by an expert transcreation agency, such as Language Reach.
Unlike legal and medical translation however, bi-lingual marketing specialists do have some creative licence. Without it, the text you are translating will not engage readers, compel them to act, and in general or influence their consumer behaviour in the way you intended.
The most important result you can aim for when translating marketing documents is to deliver content with a natural flow that appeals to the audience you are writing for. That can often mean reframing a marketing message without losing the core purpose of the message. This is incredibly difficult when translating jokes or idioms.
Given marketing documents often require a complete rewrite, together with localisation and transcreation techniques, translating marketing material can is typically time-consuming. This can pose a problem for linguists that have clients with a smaller budget than the job requires.
In such circumstances, you have to consider how you offset costs against time and whether the project is worth taking on in the first place. If you don’t have a creative mind that can produce a turn of phrase or a compelling headline without significant research beforehand, translating marketing documents probably won’t earn you a good living.
Translating medical, legal and marketing documents are considered three of the most difficult fields for linguists. Professionals in these fields are highly-educated and individuals that are qualified in specialist fields. Not only that, they are capable of delivering accurate translations from complex documents in pressure situations.
Translation is not merely a matter of replacing corresponding words from one language to another. It requires an in-depth understanding of complexities that naturally arise in language all over the world. So spare a thought for the difficulties professional translators face on a daily basis.