One of the most challenging projects a freelance translator can take on is scientific text. In the vast majority of situations, you’ll need experience – whether that comes through education or work history. Even a talented, trained linguist will find it difficult to clearly translate scientific terms and concepts without having a thorough knowledge of them to begin with. That being said, you don’t necessarily have to be a doctor to translate medical texts, for example, but you should be familiar with the terminology used and have a general understanding of the ideas that the writer of the document is trying to get across.
There are other important strategies that a freelance translator should employ when working with scientific texts:
Make certain that you consistently convey the author’s intended meaning
If you have any questions, contact the author either during the course of the translation or by flagging the portion of the text in question for follow-up after the translation is complete. Don’t be afraid to ask! The author will be glad to answer your questions if the end result is an accurately translated text.
Pay attention to details
That may sound obvious, but it’s particularly important in scientific documents, where the smallest error in a number or symbol could drastically alter the author’s intended meaning.
Keep the author’s “voice” as much as possible
Even in scientific documents, each author presents his or her own unique tone in writing. As a professional translator, it’s extremely important that you maintain that tone as much as possible. You’ll notice, for example, that an author may present either a very formal voice or a more relaxed tone. Whatever that voice is, strive to maintain it in your translated version.
Don’t hesitate to point out possible errors in the original text
No one is perfect, and that includes science professionals. If you question the accuracy of something in the original text, point it out to the author. This type of attention to detail will make you not only a valuable translator, but a trusted co-professional as well.
Double-check your work – then check it again
While it’s always important for any good translator to proofread the end product, this is especially true with scientific texts. Read the finished translation aloud to more clearly hear how it sounds. Double-check the accuracy of symbols, numbers or concepts that may be questionable. Then, if time permits, set the text aside for a day or two and read it again. The chances of finding errors or clumsy language is much greater if you step away from the document and revisit it again with a fresh set of eyes.
Although it takes time to gain the experience you need to be a scientific translator, it’s well worth the effort. Eventually, you will build long-term working relationships with clients who depend on your expertise and return with more work time and time again.