Types of translation

February 3rd, 2010

Translation is a very broad field of activity. Apart from innumerable language pairs that translations involve, there are also very many topics that the source text refers to that needs to be translated into a target language. However, translation can be broadly classified into 3 categories: commercial translation, technical translation and literary translation. We discuss these categories in more detail here below. Commercial translation is probably the most common type of translation that translators are engaged in. Whether it is lawyers, engineers, accountants, or doctors to name a few professions all have requirement for translation some time or other. Any type of business activity involves commercial translation. Documents like memos, contracts, letters, emails, brochures, catalogues, reports, agreements, circulars, company announcements, etc all fall into the commercial translation category. With the advent of internet, websites also need to be translated into different languages for multinational corporations. The translation may be in hard copy or a digital copy. Technical translation is the second most common type of translation. It covers a broad spectrum: from papers presented at international conferences to just a manual of how to operate a machine. Often it requires translators to be up-to-date in the relevant field viz. medicine, engineering etc. They are usually qualified technically as well as in languages. Manufacturing companies often have to translate documents of how to assemble a machine, operate it or trouble shoot it in languages spoken in countries where the machinery is exported.  In products involving computers, both the hardware as well as software manuals need to be translated. The translation may also involve drawings, on screen displays, print outs etc. The translation involved is so huge that large companies have specialized technical language services department within the company. Software giants like Microsoft, Oracle etc. who regularly release new updates of their software products need to localize them which term includes translation of menu bars, help files, popup windows etc as well as user manuals in different languages. They also need to update their multilingual websites with the latest information. The third type of translation viz. literary translation has been in existence since biblical times. This category includes translation of novels, poems, biographies, short stories, songs, film scripts, etc. The literary work may be fiction or non fiction though the latter is more popular as far as translation is concerned. Although the market may be somewhat limited compared to the other two categories, the return is probably better. Translation of a popular book for example can reward the translator very well. The translators usually have degree in literature as well as in the concerned language pairs. The above is a broad attempt to classify translation. In reality however, the border lines are very thin i.e. no one prevents you from switching over from one category to the other if you are adept at it. The same person can do all three types of translations though it is rare.

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