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How lack of special training affects translation quality and translator’s career


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Vladimir Belousov photoProbably each translator in his/her practice faced a problem of correct translation of terms in specific topic. Maybe many translators asked themselves "Why do I know foreign language very well but still have problems with translation?" The answer to this question for many people is simple - insufficient vocabulary. And translators try to bridge the gap by means of using dictionaries. In case of translation it is difficult but possible, however in the process of interpretation there is no time for that, and the translator looks incompetent which impacts his/her reputation and career.

Actually the problem is hidden much deeper and includes insufficient understanding of translation topic, and namely lack of industry training. It is not possible to translate correctly, if you do not understand what it is about. For example, if a translator came to a drilling site for the first time, and he needs to translate the phrase "Take the dognut off". The word "dognut" can be found not in every dictionary, and also it is rather difficult to use a dictionary in the process of interpretation. Of course, it is possible to ask an English-speaking specialist, what is "dognut" and receive an answer - "tubing hanger", then point the finger at that "tubing hanger" and ask the specialist speaking different language, how that thing is called. Phew! Only then it is time to translate. Do you think the customer will be happy with such quality of the translator’s work? But the very translator still did not understand what it is and what it is used for, he/she only wrote the correct translation down. However it can be guaranteed that in a different context this word will be translated incorrectly. Yes, it is a method of training for translators, but extremely long.

No blame on the translator, he/she knows what he/she was taught at the institute, and in principle must not understand all industries. Must not..., but if he/she came to the industry, then must, otherwise he/she will not stay there. However even nowadays some well-known translators believe that there is no need to study the industry basics, "when you come there, they will teach you", also because a translator has to work in different topics every day. We consider such approach as incorrect, however unfortunately it will remain until a step change occurs in consciousness of translators.

Responsibility of the translator

Unfortunately, even translators already working in the oil and gas industry, have patchy knowledge and a rather dim idea of what happens there. It is associated with the fact that their knowledge is not systemized, and was gained as a result of their periodic involvement into translation of individual topics. Russia is an oil and gas producing country, and translators in the oil and gas industry are paid rather well. For that reason nearly all resumes of translators, and also advertisements of translation companies include information on their work in the oil and gas industry. However actually that is limited to a couple of trips to a refinery and one trip to a drilling site with unclear result concerning quality of performed work.

Low quality and technically incorrect translation in the oil and gas industry may become an indirect cause of technical errors and even accidents and fatalities. The translator must always remember and understand his/her responsibility. Most likely that there will be no legal liability, however it can cause harm. Let us review an example from the real practice. The dialogue below includes an English-speaking tool-pusher, Russian-speaking driller and a translator.

Tool-pusher: "Tell the driller to chain the blocks to the derrick".

Translator: "Change the blocks on the derrick".

Driller: "Why? Well OK, we will do that".

In this case incorrect translation may result in loss of working time, and also possibly lead to accidents and injuries, because actually such work is not planned and not controlled. The translator bears responsibility for terminology, which he/she uses, and its correct application can be assured only after appropriate training.

Education of translators "As is"

Currently higher education establishments in the best case scenario provide only technical training of translators. There is even a special term - "technical translation", though it is not clear, what it means and how tenuous such approach can be. "Technical translation" implies gaining only general knowledge and learning limited number of technical terms not related to specific industry. As long as teachers are linguists, they are not able to provide a detailed review of specific industry, and advanced special programs just do not exist.

At the same time majority of oil and gas companies are not interested to invest funds into training of translators preferring to find a "ready product" in the market. Thus, there is harm to all - tremendous army of translators trying to find a job, and oil and gas companies, which cannot find competent specialists in that army and have to select "the best from the worst", which in general affects quality of translation in the industry. Seems like it is beneficial only for recruiting agencies because employers have to use their services. In principle, training programs of higher education institutions do not include the very notion of translator industry training. Thus, after graduation from an institute or a university, the translator is in isolation, and nobody can help him/her with employment, and in general he/she can work only on general topics.

How should it be?

Let us now imagine that the educational system for translators changed. As an example, let us look at medical institutes where students have to study not for five but for six years to be a doctor. During the first four years they attend general training, and during the last two years - training in selected specialty. Similarly translators could be provided with general translation education during the first four years, and for the last two years specialize in selected industries and study their basics and terminology. After graduation from an institute such translator could have a specialty, for example "English-Russian translator in oil and gas and construction industries". Such diploma would be a good support when applying for a job in some oil and gas company.

If we also include here mandatory workplace training of translators right out of undergrad in oil and gas fields, we will receive an interesting result in general - oil and gas companies will be able to develop their internal pools of translators - candidates for employment, and translators can find an interesting and well-paid job in their specialty just after graduation from an institute. Definitely, there must be a serious cooperation between linguistic institutes and companies in different industries in the area of training of translators. The companies could participate in development of training programs and assure workplace training for translators. Unfortunately, so far such situation is rather idealistic. It is unlikely that something will be changed in state education of translators in the nearest future. Even if such attempts are made somewhere, most probable that it is done at experimental level.

Success of the translator

As it is confirmed by the practice, the most successful and needed translators in oil and gas industry are those who have two educations - linguistic education and industry training, or those who have worked in the industry for many years, including sufficiently long period of work in the field. In the beginning of 1990-s, when an active demand for oil and gas translation just started to develop, translators in the oil and gas industry were either linguists who had to independently learn terminology, equipment and processes directly in the field, or engineers who understood everything, but had rather poor knowledge of English, and continued to learn it in the process of work. There were no other opportunities. Today the situation has changed. Now we have training text-books and courses for translators, however requirements to the translator also became stricter. It is unlikely that the employer will invest into your training, because there are more competent specialists in the market. Therefore it is obvious that success of the translator depends upon two factors - high quality desktop training and practical experience of work in the oil and gas industry, preferably in the field.

These two factors are interconnected - today it is not possible to start working in the field without understanding what happens there, and also without knowledge of special terminology in own and foreign languages, and just training without practical work is also insufficient. It is also obvious that you should start with the training, because this significantly saves time, and also provides for a good opportunity to start working in the oil and gas industry in principle.

How to select training course correctly?

Nowadays there are more and more oil and gas training courses for translators and the translator has a choice. Let us provide some recommendations for correct selection of a training course in order to avoid potential risks and pitfalls.

When selecting a training course, pay attention to personality of the course author and teacher. Each fine detail matters: age, total years of work in the oil and gas industry (including in the field), availability of own previous publications and text-books on the topic or their absence.

Duration of the training course. Remember that adds of the type "I will train you in oil and gas translation in 15 hours" are not for you. It is just impossible. It can be stated that even inside oil and gas industry there are 10-12 areas in which translators are specialized. Therefore the longer the course, the better.

If the training course is provided online, it is worth paying attention to ads and self-promotion of the author, and also promises you are given in case of subscription to the course. As a rule, excessive self-display and photos are used to compensate low quality of the content or methodology.

It is absolutely senseless to believe promises of employment and high salaries unless the course is provided by the employer. Translators in the oil and gas industry are really paid well, but nobody and never can help (and has no intentions to help) the translator. In the best scenario, they will just help you to compile a resume and provide a list of addresses of oil and gas companies.

Pay attention to the training materials. If it seems to you that you saw them somewhere, then probably it is plagiarism. In this case you accept several risks. First, such web-site can be closed at any time for violation of the copyright, even in the process of your training. Second, there is a high risk of low quality in the part of the material which was changed in order to conceal the fact of plagiarism. Therefore it is always better to use the original.

Documents which you receive after successful completion of the training course. In most cases a serious company providing such courses, will offer a document of state format. If you are offered just a certificate, then they are definitely not licensed.

Even if you already work in an oil producing company and believe that you need only knowledge in Upstream, it will be much better to attend full course, so that all your knowledge could be systemized, and you could be sure that you fully understand the oil and gas industry and know terminology. Even during interpretation of conversation or translation of text on oil production, the topic can quickly change to oil refining.

Definitely for translators it will be better if they are trained by a translator with big experience of practical work, because a translator will always understand another translator, rather than other specialist, and will also receive important practical recommendations from him.

What to do next?

When you complete the training, focus your activities on the industry selected by you. Remember that now you have competitive advantages - you have systemized knowledge of the oil and gas industry, documents of state format confirming your education and providing for priority to be employed in oil and gas companies, you know the required terminology and the most important - you are on firm ground as an oil and gas translator.

Study the oil and gas industry, identify the main players and potential employers. Try to find requests in compliance with the profile selected by you. Definitely do your best to cooperate rather than just "make money".

If you have an opportunity to go to the field, use it in order to see everything with your own eyes and gain practical experience. This also will be a big benefit for your resume.

Continuously learn on your own - compile own dictionaries and glossaries, read literature on the topic, participate in oil and gas events and forums.

Discuss this article with your colleagues at the web-site www.petrotran.ru


Published - September 2021.












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