Part 4 – The secret power of search engines

(This post is going to refer to Google specifically because Google is still the search engine I use the most and the search engine I know best but I’m sure you will be able to apply the tips you read here to your favourite search engine too.)

We’re all familiar with search engines these days and how to use them but are you using them effectively and getting the most out of them for translation purposes? Here are a few tips and tricks. Perhaps one of two of them will be new to you. And if you have any tips or tricks of your own you’d like to share, please post them below!

Finding authentic documents

In the Advanced Search Window of Google you can set the search parameters to find documents in PDF format only. These documents may be more useful to you and more reliable than the templates we often otherwise first come across online. Authentic documents are a good place to check how terminology is used in equivalent documents in the target language and a good place to look for collocations and turns of phrase. The quickest way to set the file type is to type “filetype:PDF” into the search box along with your search term.

Finding a term on a specific website

If you have a term which you know you can find on a multilingual website, you can get straight to that term on the multilingual Website by entering your term along with “site:” followed by the URL you are interested in into the search box.

Finding a term on a specific language or country-specific website

If you are translating a document into British English and you want to ensure that your hit list brings up British websites only, you can type: “” into the search box along with your term.

Field of translation

Do you automatically add the field of translation when you are searching for a term? Many terms are used across different fields. You can save time and search more efficiently by adding the field to your first search, i.e. “Abgrenzungsvereinbarung” Markenrecht. Also try typing the term in the source language and the field in the target language.

Do you know part of the translation?

Translating from German into English I often find that I know exactly how to translate part of a very long compound noun. If you type the source language term along with the parts of the target language term you already know into the search box, you will often come up with the correct or at least a suggested term which may help you to find the actual term you are looking for.

Do spend some time clicking through the advanced search settings to see what else search engines can do for you.


Part 3 – Multilingual websites – the fruits and the pitfalls

Multilingual websites are the perfect place to find terminology used in context. Particularly useful in my field (law) are the websites of the European Union, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the European Patent Office. Fast access to multilingual websites can also be obtained via Linguee.

Check the source

Again, do check the source before accepting what you find on multilingual websites. There are both fruits and pitfalls out there. Not every website available in more than one language has been translated well by a professional translator. If your term is so remote that you do have to rely on less authoritative sources, do cross-check your potential term in a monolingual dictionary to make sure that the term is indeed a suitable translation.

Practical hints and tips

After I started writing this post I remembered where it was that I first learnt about effectively searching multilingual websites. It was back in around 2003 when I was at the very beginning of my career working as an in-house legal translator at a large commercial law firm and it was at a course entitled Research Techniques for Translators in Zurich which was the first course I was ever sent on. I just googled the course and was happy to see that Tanya Harvey Ciampi is still running the course, albeit in a slightly different format. She has a lot of useful tools on her website which you can access here: and I also found this short YouTube video which might be of interest to some of you:

Create your own TM

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation first made the Translation Memory of its Acquis communautaire publically accessible in 2007. It was most recently updated in 2012. This is an excellent resource, not only for legal translators but also for translators in other fields. It claims to be the biggest parallel corpus taking account of the number of translation units and the number of languages it covers. The instructions for downloading the relevant language files for your working languages and how to create the files to load into your TM can be found here It is not as complicated as it may look at first glance and is a terminology goldmine. If you are working with Trados Studio, don’t forget to use your newly created TM to produce an Autosuggest dictionary for yourself too.

Part 2 – Monolingual dictionaries and encyclopaedia (online and offline)

Unless you have moved into translation later in your career and have sound knowledge of a specialist field, you will probably have a linguistics background. Although your degree programme may have included some specialist translation, without a degree in medicine and many years working as a doctor or a law degree and many years working as a lawyer, you will not have the in-depth specialist knowledge which the authors of your source texts will usually have.

Don’t panic!

Although it sometimes feels like translators should not only have studied translation and have spent enough time in the countries in which his/her working languages are spoken to be near-native in all of those languages but also have degrees as well as many years of work experience in the specialist areas he/she is translating, this really is idealistic. It is also unnecessary.

Active v passive knowledge

In my opinion translators need to have a passive knowledge or perhaps a good working knowledge of their specialist area. They need to understand enough to correctly comprehend the texts they need to translate but they do not need to be able to actively apply that knowledge. Legal translators do not need to be able to apply the law any more than medical translators need to be able to diagnose patients. What we do need to be able to do is to understand enough to be able to competently carry out the research necessary to produce accurate translations of our source texts.

Monolingual dictionaries and online encyclopaedia

Monolingual dictionaries are therefore essential for our research. We can look up source language terms and find out exactly how the term is being used and what implications this may have. When I  am translating German law documents, for instance, I will sometimes look up the source language term in a monolingual dictionary of German law to find out which paragraph of which code includes the term I am interested in. As a non-lawyer I don’t need to know the codes inside out. After coming across potential target language terms in bilingual dictionaries (see yesterday’s post Part 1 – Bilingual dictionaries and glossaries (online and offline)), I will often cross-check their use in a monolingual target language dictionary to ensure that I will be using the term in the correct context. If you don’t have a monolingual dictionary for a specific field, online dictionaries and encyclopaedia can also be very useful but again, check whether the source is authoritative and do cross-check before blindly accepting what you find there.

Tomorrow’s post: Part 3 – Multilingual websites – the fruits and the pitfalls

Part 1 – Bilingual dictionaries and glossaries (online and offline)

Bilingual dictionaries are perhaps the most obvious resource and the resource most commonly used by translators. Sometimes they give us the information we are looking for and that’s great but I find that, more often than not, they serve as a useful and sometimes essential starting point but any potential translations for terms they offer need to be cross-checked in another source.

Why it is unwise to blindly trust bilingual dictionaries

Pick up the nearest bilingual dictionary you have to hand. When was it published? If it is more than a year or so old some (obviously not all) of the suggested terms may well be already out of date. This is certainly the case with older bilingual law dictionaries and most certainly also with older medical dictionaries, automotive dictionaries, environmental dictionaries and so on. Technology is progressing so fast that the print medium simply cannot keep up. Dictionaries take years to compile so by the time they are published, some of the terms are inevitably already going to be out of date. Online glossaries can sometimes be more useful but in practice it very much depends on how often they are updated and ultimately on the credentials of the person who compiled the glossary in the first place. These days anyone can publish anything online so we need to find ways to establish whether the source we have come across is authoritative.

Bilingual dictionaries and glossaries in context

Unfortunately most bilingual dictionaries are just lists of terms in two languages and do not provide much contextual information. Even if you have a bilingual dictionary for your specific field, can you be sure that the context in which the term is being used in the dictionary is the same as the context in which the term is being used in the source text you are currently working on? As a legal translator I can say that in the legal field this is a particular problem with terms being used differently within different areas of law and, of course, within different legal systems using the same language. And context is naturally the key to carrying out accurate research.

Stop! Don’t bin the dictionary yet!

Having said all that, a bilingual dictionary is often a very good and even essential starting point when we come across an unknown term. Consulting a bilingual dictionary and then entering the terms offered into a search engine and seeing how the target language term is used in context is a great way of ensuring that you have the right term. For tips on how to find reliable original target language documents similar to the source language document you are translating and how to effectively leverage the terms used there, be sure to come back and read Part 4 – The secret power of search engines in this series of posts on research techniques later this week.

Tomorrow’s post will be Part 2 – Monolingual dictionaries and encyclopaedia (online and offline)

Research techniques for translators

With masses and masses of information available on the internet and the correct translation of any unknown term potentially only a few clicks away, translators in the 21st century are better equipped than ever to carry out the research they need to do to produce accurate translations of their source text documents. I’m pretty happy to make the assumption that any recent translation school graduates will be more than comfortable using the internet but I’m wondering to what extent specific research techniques – both online and offline – are taught as part of translation degree programmes these days and to what extent translation teachers, who do not and have not translated 9 to 5, are in a position to teach the most effective methods. In fact, it wasn’t until I was asked to help out a new freelance translator with a couple of difficult terms in her latest translation assignment and in preparation for discussing research techniques with her, that I actually consciously considered what it is that I actually do automatically when researching an unknown term. This week my blog will therefore be dedicated to research techniques.

Look out for the following posts:

Part 1 – Bilingual dictionaries and glossaries (online and offline)

Part 2 – Monolingual dictionaries and encyclopaedia (online and offline)

Part 3 – Multilingual websites – the fruits and the pitfalls

Part 4 – The secret power of search engines

Part 5 – Corpora and parallel texts