The Technical Translation of Writers

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When Americans hear the phrase "technical writing," they normally think of writing in American English for an American audience about American technology. But technical writing goes on all over the world.... A growing number of technical writers must cope with translations-read them, evaluate them, sometimes (sadly) retranslate them from crippled English into sound prose.

These are the words of Ben and Frances Teague in an article in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. They point up the importance of technical translation, a rapidly growing development in technical communication.

If you can write in Spanish, German, French, or a major Asiatic language, you may find a job waiting for you in technical communications.



The importance of translation as a career can be seen every day if you read the science or business sections of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. If you are living anywhere near an engineering library, look over the technical magazines. You will find articles that have been translated from foreign languages into American English.

Businesses and industries these days are global in nature. Most of the larger American companies could not exist in their present form if they weren't able to communicate with companies and people in other countries. The electronics, chemical, and transportation industries, and computer hardware and software manufacturers, among others, need manuals, reports, research papers, and technical advertisements that can be translated into foreign languages.

Grace Tillinghast, a technical translator in the International Photographic Division of Eastman Kodak, has said:

In order to reach different areas of a world market, a multinational company has to publish in various languages. A product will sell better if the potential customer knows he or whether it is a group of specialists, a group of managers, or people who are unfamiliar with the subject. This is a most critical stage for the technical scriptwriter.

Motion picture production is a complicated and costly procedure. If you decide to pursue a career in scriptwriting, it would be a good idea to get some training in this kind of writing in high school or college. And, although it isn't absolutely necessary, the beginning scriptwriter will certainly benefit by knowing something about photography. Courses in cinematography would be advisable as well.

The writer will have to visit shooting sites to become familiar with the location to be described in the script. And just as with any other writer, the product must be understood in-depth. Things must be described in visual terms with a knowledge of what photography is capable of doing.

The story line is usually developed first. This is a kind of synopsis, or highly concentrated version of speech, action, and narration. Next, the actual motion picture shooting begins, scene by scene. Then the film will be reviewed, and the scriptwriter may be asked to write a narration, which is an accompaniment to what the action means, usually spoken by a professional actor or reader hired for the purpose. Words must be written that are easily spoken and understood and that synchronize with the photographed action.

Videotape also plays an important role in industry and offers opportunities for the technical writer with some understanding of the medium. In a series of articles, published in issues of Technical Communication, William Thomas predicted greatly expanded use of videotape recorders and computers and suggested that the electronic visual media will be used to produce training programs. To-day's technical writer must be aware of the possibilities offered by the computer in graphics production, as well as word processing.

A smart scriptwriter will take advantage of the expertise of everyone associated with the project. By soliciting their advice, cooperation, and suggestions, you will make your job easier and ensure the success of your film. A successful video will make the audience receptive to your message and leave them feeling that they have learned something valuable.
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