Culture and Technical Translation

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Culture and Technical Translation

Just as important as proper translation of linguistic qualities of languages is the subject of culture and how specific cultural features are transferred and communicated in the field of technical translation. In fact, a mutual understanding of cultural components is just as important as linguistic knowledge in technical translation. This highlights the complicated nature of working with technical translation. Various cultures can exhibit drastic differences in how communication occurs, even when both cultures are working with the same target language. One Canadian technical translator and consultant working with Russian colleagues detailed difficulties while working with both North American English and global English. Encountering discrepancies in rhetorical writing strategies, differentiation in tones, document formatting issues, and conflicting conceptual goals for engineering reports, the author emphasizes cultural practices, outside of the direct realm of linguistic forms that can impede proper communication in technical translation.

In an example using a commonly translated document, the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a researcher used correlation analyses, including semantic network analysis and spatial modeling, to interpret data describing differences among seven different translated versions of the document. Demonstrating how culture plays an important role in the process of technical translation, the results of the study showed that while the translations were fairly similar, cultural subtleties and differences existed in each language’s translated version. For example, across the seven languages, common words such as “people”, “individual”, “man”, “nation”, “law”, “faith”, and “family’ had differing levels of importance in relation to other words in the language. While in Arabic the word “man” exhibited high levels of importance in the text, other languages placed higher levels of importance with words such as “person” or “individual”. In another example, the English word for “entitle” and the Chinese word for “enjoy” carried connotations attached to the concept of “rights”, demonstrating a linkage of concepts unique to each individual language. Theses slight differences demonstrate the culturally specific nuances that exist across languages. As with any type of non-MT, it is still a process completed by human beings, making it impossible for total objectivity. International technical communication cannot ignore cultural differences, so seeing how the differences affect translation is fundamental for professionals in the field.

Additionally, one’s cultural knowledge base, or lack thereof, can be detrimental to the effectiveness of communication, particularly when communicating warnings or risk factors. Considering how differing knowledge paradigms as a result of cultural factors can prompt people to respond in a variety of ways to different rhetorical strategies, particularly when communicating messages containing warnings of hazards or risks, understanding culture must be a priority in technical translation. One researcher found that a variance of definition of terms and inconsistent paradigms of cultural knowledge highlight the need for a new delineation of what technical writers consider as the target audience while communicating risk factors. What might be appropriate for one audience must be reconsidered for a culturally different audience. Looking at a specific example concerning the hazardous occupation of mining, one piece of research demonstrates how different cultures different perceptions about safety information. Comparing risk communication in mining in the United States and the United Kingdom, the researcher discovered variations among the perceptions of who is responsible for promoting safety in the workplace. While one culture felt that the user or worker was responsible for promoting his or her own safety in the workplace, another culture perceived the science behind the process or document to be responsible for the promotion of safety. As risks, warnings, or cautions are often important components of a technical document in need of translation, the technical translator will understand how such cultural differences can affect the effectiveness of the translated message. Avoiding assumptions about a culture and allowing one’s own knowledge base to consider more diverse populations will create more effective cross-cultural communication not only when working with risky environments, but in general communication as well.

Some research has investigated the possibility of a universal writing style in order to help with the translatability of writing across different cultures and languages. However, demonstrating the difficulty of such a task, one researcher addressed the assumption that unambiguous wording eases effective communication. He gave examples from certain Asian contexts when unclear communication was actually helpful because the unequivocal language forced communicators to rely more heavily on oral discourse than on written documents. The example of the effectiveness about ambiguous language not only shows problems with a universal writing style for technical translation, but also reiterates another example of how culture plays an important role in proper technical translation.

Culture and Technology

In an age where technology allows for increased accessibility and faster communication, the technical translator must understand the role that culture plays in how people interact with, react to, and utilize technology and how these culturally related concepts can affect communicated messages.

Demonstrating how technology use differs across cultures, one researcher created a presentation that took a holistic look at preparing documents for ethnically diverse audiences, pointing out other non-linguistic topics that require special attention in communication across cultures. For example, the presenter noted items to be considered including measurement systems, types of graphics and symbols, and types of media presentation tools. The author also pointed out significant differences that would affect communication among English languages including paper layouts, spelling, meaning, and use of humor. This important and practical information can be used by professionals working with technical translation.

Additionally, technical translation involves understanding how the Internet has influenced different cultures across the globe. Varying languages, cultural influences on Internet usage patterns, and media preferences force professionals in the field of technical communication to utilize a number of different strategies in order to effectively reach diverse populations across the globe. With international online populations the technical translator must be culturally diverse in a technological sense.

Finally, as technology makes intercultural and international communication easier, the technical translator must understand intercultural communication as it relates to ethics. Traditional models for ethical decision-making can be applied to difficult situations in technical translation, but the professional must avoid stereotyping and ethnocentrism in technical communication and translation.


Appendix 5


Reading must be seen as an acquired ability. But acquiring it implies a lot of practice, a good vocabulary background, good speed and intonation and the knowledge of some techniques that can guarantee comprehension. In this section we will concentrate on the latter. Unfortunately we cannot give you techniques on intonation and speed. We can not help you with the vocabulary either, since this is a personal task and you must get to it. Nevertheless, we can help you understand a little better what you read. For this purpose at the left you can find three of the most well known techniques for reading. Click on each title at the right to find important information. Remember that the best way to become a great reader is enjoying what you read.


Skimming is a technique suitable for scientific texts as well as for general texts. This is defined as the search of main ideas using only the first and last paragraphs to obtain a general view of the text. When you are working with scientific texts applying this technique can be easier since this type of literature usually contains topic headings, abstracts or summaries that might come in handy for the reader. Another advantage of a scientific text is that they are usually written in block of information grouped in paragraphs. In this case the best alternative is to read the first sentence of each paragraph. It is important to note that this technique is used not as a short cut to reading the whole text. It does not mean that you can simply read the first and last paragraphs and that you can understand everything. This technique is used to help you get n idea of what you are about to read. Skimming is like having a map before entering a city. It is less likely that you get lost if you have previous information.


When students face a new text they tend to read word by word. This way of reading affects the general understanding of the passage and the time taken to finish the reading can be too long for the final results. The students can end up reading every word very well but in the long run the idea of what they have read is lost. To avoid this loss of time and effort a reader can use Scanning to help him or her. Scanning consists on running your eyes down the text, searching for important or key words, as well as the most outstanding facts. Scanning can be a preliminary step in reading because with it you can locate new terms, look them up in a dictionary or a glossary and save time when you actually begin to read. The process of Scanning can not take more than a couple of minutes. After that you must decide which terms are the most important and which part of the reading deserves more attention. Do not forget that this is only a comprehension technique designed to help you get into the reading, in order to interpret the authors intentions and ideas it is important to read the whole text and the analysis of it must be done with a little bit more detail.

Using Context

Most of the times we are faced with reading something just then, at that precise moment. In the real world you can not be too prepared to read a text. In many cases you simply do not have the time to use a dictionary or to apply a given technique. It is only you and the text. This is when understanding context can come in handy. Context can be defined as the elements that surround a term and help clarify its meaning. The first things to do when taking advantage of context is recognizing the grammatical category of the word we are trying to understand of define. Is it an adverb, an adjective, a verb or a noun? English grammar can give us some tips to know exactly what kind of word we are dealing with, for example:

  • If the word ends in -ly and is located after a verb it is likely that you have an adverb.
  • If the word is before a noun and is not pluralized it can be an adjective.
  • If the word is after a personal pronoun or a noun it might be a verb.
  • If the word has a definite or indefinite article or it is pluralized it is possible to be a noun.

Appendix 6


In this section you will find information regarding the ability of writing. It is designed to help you understand the different parts of a written composition. To the left you will find several titles that will be useful to you. Click on each one to be transported to its corresponding explanation. We hope this information is helpful to you and that it will contribute greatly to your writing style.

A paragraph is a basic unit of organization in writing in which a group of sentences develops one main idea. The number of sentences a paragraph contains is not important. It can be as short as one sentence or as long as nine sentences, the most important thing is that the idea stated at the beginning is clearly developed.

Three essential parts compose any paragraph: a topic sentence, supporting sentences and a concluding sentence.

1. Topic Sentence: it states the main idea of the paragraph. It contains the name of the topic that is to be carried out. This sentence has to be precise, but avoid telling everything in the first sentence or your reader will lose interest. The topic sentence serves to limit the topic to one or two areas that will be discussed entirely in the space of one paragraph. The area is what we call the controlling idea.

2. Supporting Sentences: they come after the topic sentence, making up the body of a paragraph. they help develop the topic sentence. It means that these sentences explain the topic by giving reasons, examples, facts, statistics, and quotations.

3. Closing Sentences: it’s the last sentence in a paragraph, it indicates that the paragraph is ending and sums up important points to remember or reprises the main idea. You write it restating the main idea of a paragraph but using different words.

In addition to the three parts of a paragraph, a good paragraph also needs two important elements: unity and coherence. Unity: it means that in your paragraph you discuss one and only one main idea which is stated in the topic sentence and then developed by the supporting sentences. Coherence: it means that your paragraph is easy to read and understand because:

  • your supporting sentences are in logical order
  • your ideas are connected by the use of a appropriate transition signals.

How to Write a Paragraph

Prewriting a Paragraph

The prewriting stage is when you think carefully and organize your ideas for your paragraph before you begin writing. There are six steps involved in this process. They are the following:

1. Think carefully about what you are going to write. Ask yourself: "What question am I going to answer in this paragraph or essay? How can I make this paragraph interesting? What facts can be stated to support this topic?

2. Write your answers to the above questions and do not need to spend a lot of time doing this. Just write enough to help you remember why and how you are writing.

3. Collect facts related to your topic. Write down facts that will help you answer your questions.

4. Write down your own ideas. Ask yourself: What other things can I include about this topic? Why should people be interested in this topic? Why is this topic important?

5. Find the main idea of your paragraph: Chose the most important point. If you cannot decide which is the most important one, just chose one and stick to it throughout your paragraph.

6. Organize your facts and ideas to develop your topic, find the best way to tell the reader about it. Decide which facts will support the main idea.

Writing a Paragraph

The writing stage is when you turn your ideas into sentences and you communicate them. Some important steps are the following:

  • Write a topic sentence, some supporting sentences, and one closing sentence
  • Make sure that the sentences are clear, simple, and they express what you really mean
  • Focus on the main idea of your paragraph
  • Re-read what you wrote and see if the idea is clear and you can read it with ease

Editing a Paragraph

The editing stage is when you check your paragraph for mistakes and correct them. Do not forget to do the following:

  • Check your grammar and spelling
  • Read your text again and make sure each sentence makes sense
  • See if your paragraph is interesting to read

Transitional Signals

Transition signals can be compared to traffic signs. They are words that tell you to go forward, to turn, to slow down and to stop. Better said, they help the reader when to you are giving a similar idea, an opposite idea, an example, a result, or a conclusion. As a writer it is important to use these types of words to help you follow your ideas coherently.

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