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What is Document Translation?

What is Document Translation? –
A step-by-step guide into Translations

Document translation. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? One might think it’s basically just translating a document from one language to another. While this is kind of true, there are many different aspects and categories that come into play in this very wide field of translation.

Maybe a better question to ask: What is document translation and how and why does it benefit my business?

This comprehensive guide into document translation will show you what is what. No longer blindly step into the vast and sometimes very confusing translation marketplace. After all, being prepared and knowing exactly what to look for is the key to sidestep problems and accelerate your business’s growth.

The early history of translation

Translations have probably been present in human history since the invention of writing. Although the history of translation has long been furiously debated amongst historians, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (3rd century BCE) is widely regarded as the first major translation in the western world. As most Jews have forgotten Hebrew, they needed the bible in Greek. For this, they have commissioned seventy scholars to translate the bible. Each translator worked in solitary confinement out of their own cells. – Legend says that each of the 70 translated bibles were proven to be identical. You might call  this ancient translation the first professional document translation in human history.

What is a translation?

The term translation refers to the process of transferring a written text from one human language to another. For a translation to be defined as just such, the process needs to fulfill three core elements.

 These factors define a translation:

  • The information is presented in written form
  • It involves a transfer of information
  • from one human language to another

Nowadays the word translation is thrown around pretty loosely. One might refer to the transfer of spoken, oral language as a translation but the accurate term should be interpreting or interpretation. Read more about the key differences here.

Going forward we will be adhering to the distinction between written and oral form and their respective field of practice.

Terms you should be aware of when dealing with translation professionals

Like in every professional field the translation industry has its very own “language”. Here we will have a look at some of the most common ones so you will be able to navigate through emails, quotes, and invoices with confidence.

For the layman the document at hand will be “document” and the already translated version will be referred to as “the translation” – or something along that line. In professional circles, the document from which a text is translated is called the “source text (ST)”. The translated version is then referred to as the “target text (TT)”. The same terminology applies to languages. The original language becomes the “source language(SL)” and the language of the translated product is the “target language(TL)”. Another common term you will hear or read is the language pair. A language pair are the languages the translator will be dealing with. Let’s assume you have a document that needs translation from English to German – the language pair is ENG / GER. 

If you are still confused this example my clarify it for you.

For instance, let’s assume you will be needing your latest annual report translated from German to English.

Language PairSource Text (ST)Target Text (TT)Source Language (SL)Target Language (TL)
Eng / GerGerman Annual ReportEnglish Annual ReportGermanEnglish

Why document translation matters and is only going to grow in importance

As we’ve gone through before with the ancient Greeks. Translation has always played a major role in society. It is pretty much the only reliable form to spread knowledge and information throughout borders and language barriers.

Globalization, the rise of the internet and our craving for information have only fueled the need for translation. As geography is becoming less of a barrier to do business, one major obstacle that needs to be overcome are language barriers. Through translations, companies can benefit from working overseas. It does not matter whether it is being physically present in the country or via the web. Taking advantage of the lower cost of products and services abroad, hiring experts from a foreign country or exploring additional markets to trade in. Document translation in one form or another will be necessary.  

Not Everyone Speaks English

English is the most prominent language in the world. There is no denying this fact. However, looking at statistics will show you just how insignificant English is in the broader scheme of language. There are about 1.5 billion people who speak English. That is 20% of the world’s population. You heard that right. That is 20% of the entire world’s population. So, sticking to just English and you are leaving a lot of value on the table. This number becomes even more daunting if you focus on native speakers… According to STATISTA.COM  out of the 1.5 billion, only 379 million are native. 379 Million out of 7.5 Billion! Which language do you believe the ones who are not native would prefer to consume their information/content? Given the opportunity, I would suggest that most of them would probably stick to their mother language.

Benefits of Translations in a Global Economy

Language is more than just plain communication of words. We see our native language as part of our identity, it expresses society and it reflects native culture. Many take pride in their language.

Hence, translation not only becomes a necessity if you want to successfully spread information and ideas throughout the globe but it can transform how your business/brand is perceived overseas. 

It is no wonder why most of the top companies translate their documents and content. A great translation will not only open up your market but will make it more likely that your target audience can resonate with your message. While it might be true that many companies can get by with just English, going the extra step with great translations raises brand awareness and identification. I probably don’t have to tell you this but in today’s competitive economy branding is everything!


What is Legal translation?

Like any other type of translation, a legal translation replaces the source language with the desired target language. However, a legal translation is more complex as law differs between jurisdictions and is greatly culture-dependent. As globalization is striving the need for great legal translators increases.

Why the need for professional legal translation services?

In the field of document translations, a legal translation is one of the most complex tasks. Legal documents do not leave room for misinterpretation, ambiguity or even the smallest mistakes. A tiny error in law interpretation or a single mistranslation and the entire legal document at hand can become void. In the legal world working with wrong or incomplete information can lead to disastrous legal complications and financial outcomes.
If you have ever read a legal contract or have worked with a lawyer you will know that in the legal field they speak their own language. – Legalese. Did you ever read a legal document over and over again but still couldn’t comprehend certain sections in the texts? Well, someone outside these circles will have a hard time following let alone understanding some or most of the conveyed information in these documents. Legal texts are filled with legal concepts and unique terminology. Combine that with cultural ( juridical) factors and language differences and you will know that a legal translation isn’t just about replacing a word with another. Entire legal concepts and expressions must be properly transposed onto the target document. This is where it can get tricky. Not every legal expression can be found in a different language, it might lack an exact equivalent. Here the translator duty is to use correct language that will accurately convey information within the target jurisdiction.
That being said a professional translator becomes a requirement for any legal translations, especially when dealing with legally binding documents.

Human translation for Legal Documents

Government certificates, court releases, and affidavits – Most legal documents are official papers where the content is to be understood in its entirety by you or a third party. While machine translations have made advancements in the last decade they do not provide the high accuracy and interpretation skills needed for legal translations. Automated translations are not advised because of the complexity of both jurisdictions involved. A professional translation must always ensure that the perfect equivalent is found for each term and if there is none the information must be paraphrased to accurately mirror information in the target language. These are skills that AI does not have. Direct translations from a machine might end up making no sense to the reader.

Avoid going the easy or cheapest route and do not put your company at risk of any monetary or legal backlash. To find out more about our legal translation services click here.

What is medical translation?

In the medical field, there is no room for error. When it comes to professional medical translations, precision is vital.  People’s lives may depend on the meaning of a single word.  In 2007 47 patients had to go through painful knee surgery twice just because the translator in charge has translated the word “non-cemented” or “without cement,” instead of “non-modular cemented.”.  Crucial documents, such as medical clinical reports, user instructions, medical research, or medication labels, are essential for people’s health.

During the translation process, you cant exclude, add, substitute or misinterpret anything. Incorrect information will lead to complications as doctors will rely on the translations at hand and cannot tell if their new instruments have correct instructions or not.

The importance of human translations in the medical field

Medical translation is a highly specialized area and requires more attention from a translator. Generally, medical translators should have a sound knowledge of their language pair. Additionally, they must have excellent knowledge of medical terms and meanings, understand ethical issues, and other concepts of health care.

In order to accurately translate medical documents, they must be equipped with excellent writing skills in both working languages. Medical translators must have intense research, analysis and comprehension skills, and in-depth knowledge of the range of medical terminology and therapeutic concepts.

Aside from that, complete access to appropriate reference materials and resources must be available. While they should be familiar with medical terms, they must have access to any medical terminology for both languages.

The global medical industry is highly regulated. Hence companies in need of medical translations should always opt for professional translation services.

Different Medical Specializations

Experience alone is not enough for accurate medical translations. As the medical field relies on 100% precise information, a translator must also have a specialization. A great translator in dermatology may not be able to translate documents regarding oncology and vice versa.
Hence, practitioners and other individuals who need their medical documents translated must work with a translator who’s a specialist in the specific medical branch. Only this way, they have the assurance that the translated text is accurate.

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