Annual Meeting Reports

Translations and Beyond: Reaching Out to the World

This session did a nice job of identifying the reason that translations are important, the process that one might use to obtain translations, and some of the language complexities that publishers might face in the process.

Nader Rifai presented the case for translations for the journal Clinical Chemistry as driven by the mission to make the journal and its ancillary information products and services broadly accessible. The journal has pursued translations in 15 languages by using local affiliated societies that have handled 1,000 articles in the last 5 years (50% in Chinese). Beyond journal articles, the society has worked to translate podcasts, clinical case studies, journal club materials (finding that translated articles had double the downloads versus the average), and trainee council materials.

Adrian Stanley reviewed the issue of why translations are pursued and identified the motivation as typically more about mission than money, the great exception being article reprints for pharmaceutical companies. Stanley went on to describe some of the translation tasks beyond journal articles, including translation of brochures, marketing materials, social media, market research, meetings, contracts, and local-language Web sites. Beyond the decision of which materials to translate, choices have to be made about which languages to translate to and what resources to use for the translations. Stanley emphasized the need for time and control. It is particularly important to be sure that goals are aligned when one partners with foreign sister associations, especially when it comes to data gathering and responses. The process should include outlining the scope of translations, creating an agreement with clear expectations, identifying a subject expert to review the translation, and disseminating the translated material. A good translation will assist in the broad dissemination of content, will have potential practical—even life-saving—impact, can build brand awareness, can build community, and can increase global membership. Stanley provided a few specific tips:

  • Translators should be acknowledged in the publication.
  • Machine translations might be good for general inquiries (Google Web site translations) but can be laughably inaccurate for important information.
  • Marketing materials should be vetted by a local native speaker who understands the cultural context.
  • Corresponding images should be chosen with cultural context in mind.

Mauricio da Rocha e Silva noted that we often view translation as English to another language. However, many authors are translating their own articles from their native languages to English for publication. In the case of Latin languages (Latin-based languages are spoken by almost 14% of the world’s population), there is the advantage that Latin was the lingua franca of science even 1,000 years after it was no longer used as a spoken language. Consequently, much of the English used for scientific writing relies on Latin derivations. English offers some advantages as a scientific language because it has only three to six verb forms and is largely gender neutral. In many cases, scientific writing is simply made up of Anglo-Saxon connectors between Latin terms, so it is accessible to a large portion of the world’s population who speak French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. Finally, Rocha e Silva pointed out that writers should avoid the passive voice, particularly when a written piece will be translated. He noted the ambiguity associated with the passive voice, which makes it useful in poetry and terrible for science.