I know the title is a little baffling… what do I mean, using dictionaries? Everyone knows how to do it, right? Well, no, but I’m not going to write an article about how to open the dictionary, look under the correct letter etc., but what I am going to do is talk about how translators should use dictionaries to serve their purpose and enable them to come up with the best/ most suitable translation.
You might think this is trivial and of no importance, but I’ve seen so many bad translations during my career that it made me think some translators don’t know how to best use the resources they have at hand.
What was happening ten or fifteen years ago is so much different from today’s situation that the same job seems completely new. In the past, people used hard copies dictionaries and glossaries. Now you can find everything online, so the time needed to look a word up has been greatly reduced.
How to make sure the word/ expression you translated is the most suitable one? Well, check the tips below:
- Check, double-check, triple-check
Even if sometimes (OK, most of the times) a translator can guess the meaning of a word in a certain context, it is always advisable to check with a dictionary. Actually, not just check, but double and triple check with different dictionaries. Considering that a word can have different meanings, it is essential that the translator choose the most suitable one.
- Use specialised dictionaries and glossaries
This is quite self-explanatory. If you are working on a specialised translation (be it in the field of medicine, law or IT), you must have access to and use specialised dictionaries and glossaries. It is not only a matter of a good translation, but someone’s life may be at stake (mistranslating a diagnosis, an allergy or treatment can have life-threatening consequences)
Don’t limit yourself to using one kind of dictionary (let’s say French-English). Use also a French-French and English-English dictionaries to cross-reference the definitions of the word/ expression you need to translate. As mentioned above, make sure you also check the meaning in a specialised dictionary or glossary if necessary.
- Don’t be afraid to ask
If you are not sure or have any doubts about a translation, don’t be afraid to ask your peers. There are quite a few websites and forums dedicated to professional translators and there will certainly be someone who will be able to answer your questions.
If you have any other tips or tricks up your sleeve, I’d be happy to hear them.