Considering Your Audience in Science and Technology Translation

David Idesis (Translation Track, second year)


Most of my work for National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs) has focused on the translation of texts promoting scientific discoveries or science and technology related events. One might assume that the sternest challenge in this type of work would be the translation of technical terms, but once you have become accustomed to searching for the correct terms, this is no longer the greatest of the translator’s concerns.


What can be even more vexing is how to filter the information in the source text so as best to convey its most pertinent details with the appropriate emphasis. The sheer volume of scientific concepts in the text can make it difficult to identify its core message to the untrained eye. If translations filled with hard-to-understand scientific concepts use equally hard language, we cannot expect them to be read to completion. What makes this even more important is that the people likely reading these pieces are politicians or entrepreneurs seeking to keep up with technological innovation in Taiwan. These readers do not want to sift through mounds of linguistically and conceptually dense content.


What brought this lesson home for me was coming face to face with those who are engaging with NARLabs in English. While participating in a NARLabs collaborative event with their EU partners, I came into contact with the very people I would be translating for. They were focused on simple issues and finding ways in which to work effectively with NARLabs; not on highly technical details or the inner workings of Taiwan’s latest scientific breakthroughs. These people want information they can use delivered in a palatable manner, simple as that. As with any form of translation, identifying your audience is absolutely vital in understanding which parts of the text really matter to them.


As someone with a background lightyears away from science and technology, translating informational texts about concepts so far from the breadth of my understanding might feel disheartening at times. However, I am encouraged by the fact that in this job the old cliché about translation holds true: it really does provide a bridge between distant cultures. While the audience for NARLabs English articles may be small, it is comprised of people with a significant role to play in facilitating technological advancement.


More than teaching me about specific skills I need to arm myself with to be an effective technological, scientific or technical translator, this internship has shown me the importance of identifying my audience and putting myself in their shoes. If translators engaged in technology diplomacy cannot do this, who knows how many or how great of an opportunity could be lost.