As every translator would definitely say, one of the most significant perks of translation as a profession is the constant learning. The projects we work on must constantly remain challenging in order to urge us to discover new spheres of our subject matter. But then again, these projects must be completed accurately and according to quality standards. We achieve that delicate balance through constant improvement, and the first step when encountering a new, unknown element in the source text is the research.
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Nowadays, almost the entire process of research is closely connected with the usage of modern technology. This is definitively not unusual because the wonders of high-tech communication have drastically changed both learning and research methods in the past 20 years. Concerning translation industry, in particular, this has improved both quality and speed. Hence, it would be unthinkable for a contemporary translator to complete a 5K technical translation project in, for example, two days without the use of technology that came out in the last decade. However, even with the usage of the Internet, translation memories, term bases and all other marvels of modern translation, the beginning of a new translation project (the translation of a first quarter) takes considerably more time than the rest of the project. That is, of course, the case when we talk about a relatively new type of source text. That, of course, happens because we have not quite got used to the terminology, style, and topic in general and we have to reach out for the means of research more often than at the last quarter of the project. For me personally, the amount of time spent on research at the beginning of the translation reaches up to 40-60% of the total work, while that amount drops towards the end of the project to 15-25%.
So what can be done to reduce the amount of time spent researching?
Like in every segment of translator’s work there are many things that can be improved.
For most of us, one of the first things that cross our mind when mentioning research is Google. And this is actually the favored starting point for the majority of people regardless of the subject field. We enter the phrase or word we want to explore and then we browse the content selecting what we find interesting or important. This is the simple process all of us are familiar with. But even this simple procedure can be modified for the advanced researchers like translators, who need accurate results in important moments when the time is of the essence. Using special shortcuts can significantly change the results of our search. For example, by using a few simple commands in our search engines, quotes, plus and minus signs, we can manipulate the results to get exactly what we want. If we put a phrase under quotation marks and press enter, we will get only the results containing the exact word combination in that particular order. The plus and minus signs include or exclude a word or phrase. Also, we can put asterisk instead of a word we are not sure about and see if Google confirms our suspicion. Commands like Allintext:, Allintitle: or Allinurl: limit the search only to the entered text in title command or as part of a larger text. These functions and numerous others can be selected in the option Advanced in Google options but learning a few of these would most probably save us some time when researching since translators more than often need a customized search and they need it fast.
Although translators predominantly work alone and they use all references, technology, and knowledge at their disposal, often another set of eyes is necessary to get the translation just right. Translator’s forums and terminology networks like KudoZ at Proz.com are a perfect place when we come across something that gives us a headache. A fellow translator can be of great help even if they do not work in the same field as us, an opinion or a suggestion can provide us with a different perspective which is often needed to solve the problem. Most of the asked questions are answered in hours or even minutes and after someone with maybe more experience or a good idea responds to the question, we get a better insight into the text and we can translate the term more accurately.
As any experienced translator would advise, the key to success in a world of translation is specialization. Among other means of specializing, an important factor in getting established in a certain domain of translation is being up to date with the current comings and goings in the field. This can be done by reading scientific articles by the researchers from the particular field of interest. In this way, we prepare ourselves for the new challenges of our future translation projects. Certain web pages such as Elsevier or Academia.edu offer a great number of free articles in numerous fields but if one wants to take the research to another level they would have to subscribe to a certain journal or purchase a journal to keep themselves up to date. Furthermore, many specialized professional translators regularly attend conferences which give them the opportunity to directly approach the current issues in their subject field. All of this can be very expensive and time-consuming, but if we want to produce great professional translations it is definitively worth it.
Any research is a potential dead-end street. This is the thing we need to be aware of and accept it. Also, like in the majority segments in our lives, while researching we are constantly making choices. Whether they are right or wrong depends solely on us and for me personally, this is one of the main benefits of translation. One of the dead-end streets of research comes with sources that are not so reliable. Whether to take something we find on the internet seriously poses a great challenge. One of the primary steps we can take to determine the reliability of our source is to check the reputation of the author. When researching for a high paying technical project it is not the same whether we use a mini-article from an unknown author or a well written scientific article written by a published author. Other than that, we use one of the oldest techniques known to man, the method of trial and error, which is the technique that majority of the new translators would have to get used to. In many cases, this is an immensely frustrating period for a young translator. This is, of course, easier when working as a part of a team in an agency, where a young translator has several experienced colleagues to correct him or her.
Stop researching the same things over and over again!
When translating more than 3 thousand words a day a very few full-time translators can rely on their memory to store the newly acquired terms. It is natural that we easily forget a term we used a couple of hours earlier. A translator must constantly be focused on many different aspects of translation, such as meaning, fluency, accuracy, style and appropriate terminology which makes it hard to access certain elements in our memory in the process of translation. Luckily, the modern technology makes it easier to store and access terms in seconds. CAT tools provide us with two main advantages when it comes to preserving our valuable researched material. Firstly, we can use the concordance option to search the translation memories of our previous work and secondly, many CAT tools offer terminology bases which, when activated, automatically recognize terms in source and give us the target term when we need it. As it has been mentioned, the technology is useless if we do not regularly update our terminology bases and translation memories and keep them organized and accessible.
Translators can be considered as a special kind of researchers who need to be trained for fast and accurate information discovery. These skills save us a considerable amount of time when we look at the broader picture. We have mentioned that research can take up to 60% of the total translation time when the subject matter is not very familiar, but we need to reduce that percentage as we move further with the project. One of the main aids when it comes to whole research-time ratio is getting familiar with the technology we use. This often includes adapting ourselves to get the most of the technology. Also, by storing the already researched material appropriately and building terminology bases and translation memories we are able to produce consistent and professional work.