Using the Internet in the translation activity – Part 1 of 2

The Internet has been part of the translation activity for many years now and is used by practically every translator. We can barely imagine what the translation activity was about before the Internet.

The pre-Internet era is now a thing of the past but it has changed the translation activity so much that being a translator in the eighties and before has nothing to do with today’s business. 245 translators were asked questions through interviews and questionnaires (Lagarde 2009).

Every respondent uses the Internet (245/245). The translator uses it for two main reasons. First of all, it is a convenient tool to contact potential clients and advertise. The translator can get in touch with companies throughout the world very easily. He/she now works on an international market. The translator also uses the Internet to search documents and get knowledge about the subject he/she works on. Translators may be specialized with various subjects but they rarely got trained in their domains (78/245; 31.8%).[1] This lack of specialized training means that he/she needs to get knowledge to understand the source text and solve possible translation problems. To do so, the translator uses sources other than the source text. These sources can be divided into three categories: 1) terminological sources (dictionaries, glossaries and databases), 2) non-terminological sources (articles, books) and 3) human sources (specialists). Terminological and non-terminological sources can be paper and online sources.

Today, online sources are mostly used by translators. Paper sources used to be the basic sources in the translation activity but now, they are less and less used. Most translators said that using the Internet was more convenient because they accessed a lot more information. They added that online sources were permanently posted and they could find up-to-date information. Specialized paper sources do not have such a potential and are also quite expensive. Therefore, translators logically favor online sources (63/84; 75%). Some of them even threw paper sources away because they proved to be useless and outdated. A lot of experienced translators (those who were already in the business in the pre-Internet era) also said that they used to go to the library to get information and solve translation problems. Today, this strategy has practically disappeared, as translators can access much information directly from their computer. According to them, going to the library is also too time-consuming (59/74; 79.8%); they also said that the Internet had tightened deadlines; clients now think that getting information is easier and faster than before and have therefore shortened their deadlines.

The Internet has had deeper effects than the kind of sources the translator uses. Being specialized with a subject is not as important as it used to be. A lot of translators are not as reluctant to take on very specialized texts because they think they will surely find any information they want online and they will be able to get basic knowledge even on highly-technical subjects. This trend is more common with ‘young’ translators than with experienced translators (11 years of experience and 15.8 years of experience).

When translating specialized texts[2], the translator has to solve terminological and phraseological problems. Terminological research in the translation activity has been well-documented in translations studies (Hönig and Kussmaul 1982; Durieux 1990 and 2003; Gile 1995 and 2005) and a difference was made between ‘pure’ technical terms and technical terms derived from the non-specialized language (Lagarde 2009). For example, the French term ‘mastoïdectomie’ is a ‘pure’ technical term which is only used in medicine. On the contrary, the term ‘unit’ is used in the non-specialized language but also in various specialized domains to refer to very specific notions. Each domain has a specific French equivalent for the term ‘unit’ (‘groupe’, ‘grandeur de référence’, ‘composant’, ‘ensemble’, ‘équipement unitaire’, ‘appareil’, ‘machine’, ‘dispositif’, ‘élément de code’ or ‘individu’) (Froeliger 1999 : 105) and the translator may find difficult to pick the right term. We may suggest that the Internet should be an efficient tool to fix this problem. All the translators reported that they first used the Internet (rather than paper sources) to find information on this kind of terms but given their nature, their online research was time-consuming (58/58). For example, the French term ‘rosace’ is part of the popular language but is also used in the nuclear domain (with a specialized meaning). When googling this term, I got 1,750,000 answers. In comparison, I typed the word ‘mastoïdectomie’, a ‘pure’ technical term, and Google found 7,040 answers.[3] It seems quite obvious that given the number of answers, the translator will struggle to find adequate information on ‘rosace’[4]. As a conclusion, the Internet can be useful to translate specialized terms derived from the non-specialized language, but having enough knowledge is a key element to pick the right information.

This blog post is the first part. Please read the second part as well. The article has been published by Laurent, he is German, English to French principal translator at If you need a professional translation service in any language, at your translations are in safe hands, believe me. As a translator you a welcome to easily subscribe for translation jobs here.

Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


[1] For example, a medical translator with a medical degree or a medical background

[2] Specialized texts refer to texts with specialized content. The translator must have enough specialized knowledge to understand and translate it.

[3] Search done in July 2012

[4] Typing an extra word (such as ‘nucléaire’) can help reduce the number of answers (from 1,750,000 to 354,000).


Durieux, Christine (2003) Entre terminologie et traduction : la recherche documentaire, dans Turjumàn. 12/1. pp. 17-38.

Froeliger, Nicolas (1999) Le traducteur face à l’interdisciplinarité, dans La revue des lettres et de traduction. 5. pp. 101-112.

Gambier, Yves (2007) Réseaux de traducteurs/interprètes bénévoles, dans Meta. 52/4. pp. 658-672.

Gile, Daniel (1995) Basic concepts and models for interpreter and translator training. Amsterdam/Philadelphia. Benjamins Translation Library. 277 p.

Gile, Daniel (2005) La traduction : la comprendre, l’apprendre. Paris. Presses Universitaires de France. 278 p.

Hönig, Hans et Kussmaul, Paul (1982) Strategie der Übersetzung, ein Lehr- und Arbeitsbuch. Tübingen. Gunter Narr Verlag. 172 p.

Lagarde, Laurent (2009) Le traducteur professionnel face aux textes techniques et à la recherche documentaire. Thèse de doctorat. Paris. ESIT – Université Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle. 340 p.

Plassard, Freddie (2007) La traduction face aux nouvelles pratiques en réseaux, dans Meta. 52/4. pp. 643-657.

Théologitis, Dimitri (1998) …And the profession ? (The impact of new technology on the translator), dans Terminologie et Traduction. 1. pp. 342-351.

Wakabayashi, Judy (2002) Through Internet mailing lists for translators, dans Hung, Eva. Teaching translation and interpreting 4 – Building bridges. Amsterdam/Philadelphia. Benjamins Translation Library. pp. 47-58.

2 thoughts on “Using the Internet in the translation activity – Part 1 of 2

  1. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Aug 20-26) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

  2. Pingback: How the Internet has deeply changed the translation activity | Translation Services - News - Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *