Being a professional in a bilingual setting certainly has its own challenges. Whether you are a translator, a professional in an executive position or a student, you have undoubtedly stumbled upon this big and annoying brick wall: you encounter an unknown technical financial term. 

Whether this term is in accounting, finance, tax, or other related areas, it is not as simple as translating it as if it were common language. When it comes to technical terminology, not only in finance but in any specialized area, different words often times vary in meaning. 

For example, let’s say you are working with a foreign trade document and you encounter the term in Spanish “manifestación de valor”. If you go to Google Translate, it will give you a literal translation, which is “manifestation of value”. And that term actually exists… in social sciences! In the financial world, this term is non-existent. This situation may also happen if you translate the term by yourself, without the proper methodology. 

There are countless examples where, if you translate a technical term as if it were regular language, that translated term will either be wrong, have a completely different meaning, or it will simply be non-existent.

The frustration is real…

Watch out for small technicalities…

Another issue with encountering technical terminology and trying to figure out what it means in another language is that there may be some technicalities that you may not be aware of, and there is no way for you to find out if you try to translate this unknown term on your own or with Google Translate.

For example, let’s take a look at the term “statement of income”. This term is used when income is being reported in the years that are reported. However, if a loss is reported in one or all of the years reported, then the term you should use instead is “statement of operations”. These terms are used in US GAAP. So, if you are coming from the Spanish term “estado de resultados”, it is likely that you might fail to know this sort of a small technicality unless you research properly.

As a specialized financial translator, I encounter this issue on a daily basis. And in this article, I’m going to give you a step by step guide on how to get over this annoying roadblock.

6 STEPS TO ACCURATELY TRANSLATE A TECHNICAL TERM INTO ANOTHER LANGUAGE

Step #1: Learn the meaning of the term

I really want to emphasize that it is more than necessary for you to know the meaning of the term you are looking for. You need to know what you are looking for. You have to understand its concept. This is important, and this is the very first step. Just look on Google or in a dictionary for the meaning or concept of that term and try to grasp it.

Step #2: Look in a specialized bilingual dictionary

This is the next logical step you should follow. Make sure you go through all of the specialized bilingual dictionaries you have access to. In my case, I have 4 dictionaries that are specialized in accounting, finance, and tax. I make sure I go over my dictionary as well.

If you find the term here, then you are good to go. If not, then follow the next step.

Me with some of the

dictionaries I use the most.

Step #3: Look in a specialized monolingual dictionary in the target language

Here is where it starts to get tricky. The first thing you have to do is to use your intuition and have somewhat of an idea of what that term could be. Go to a specialized monolingual dictionary and try searching for that term.

If you do find that term you thought of, you need to make sure it is the correct one. This is why it is very important that you read the definition. By reading the definition, you will know if that is the term you are looking for or not.

Like I said, this one is tricky. There will be a lot of times when you do find the term you thought of, but its meaning will be completely different. So be aware of this, and always read the meaning.

Step #4: Look in a publication of a reliable source in the target language

You have looked in all of your dictionaries and had no luck. This is what I would try next.

If you are in finance, look for publications by institutes, commissions, boards, and organizations. For example, I often use books, journals, magazines, and monthly articles from the AICPA (American Institute for Certified Public Accountants).

 

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants AICPA

 

The first thing you need to have very clear is what topic or subject your term is about. The type of document you are working with is the point of departure. For example, let’s imagine you are looking for the term “participación en los resultados de subsidiarias”. This term is usually found in a financial statement and management letters. For the sake of this example, let’s imagine that I am working on a financial statement.

The next step is to go to the publication. Remember it can be a book, magazine or article of a recognized institute, commission, board or organization. In this case, I will be using a publication from the AICPA (I will be using a real example here). Go to the index or to the table of contents of that publication. They are located in the beginning and back of the book, respectively. So, the next step is to look in the index for a close match to the subject where the term is. I prefer the index rather than the table of contents because the index gives more details.

Following the example I was using, I was working on a financial statement. It is important to identify one or more keywords in the term. Putting the term in Google Translate is a good idea to get a rough estimate of what the term could mean, and to identify your keyword. Another thing you can do to identify your keyword is to look for each word of that term in one of your specialized bilingual dictionaries you used in Step 1. In this case, I looked for the word “participación” in one of my dictionaries, which turned out to be “equity” in English.

In the AICPA book I am using, I found these subjects and items in the index. Remember my keyword is “equity”:

Equity. See also Stock; Stockholders Equity

-Defined

-Disclosure

-In earnings of affiliates

-Fair value measurement

-Losses of investees

-Presentation

-Presentation and disclosure excerpts

-Rights and privileges

-Statement of changes in shareholder’s equity

Index

As a quick recap, we are looking for the term “participación en los resultados de subsidiarias”, and the word “participación” is “equity”. You have to compare the keyword with the items and see which one matches. In this case, in the subject of “equity”, I found the item “in earnings of affiliates”. So, this is a very close match. 

The next thing to do is to go to the page where the item is located and read the corresponding segment. It is very important to analyze the context and confirm if it matches the context of your term or not. Following my example, I found that that the context with the term “in earnings of affiliates” does match the context of “participación en los resultados de subsidiarias”. The next step would be to replace “affiliates” with “subsidiaries”. The correct term is “equity in earnings of subsidiaries”.

Step #5: Forums are your best friends

If you don’t find the term in any of your dictionaries and you don’t have any luck on any of your resources, then your next best bet is to go to an online forum and look there. Just go to the search bar and research there.

You don’t necessarily need to find the exact translation, although many times you will. If you don’t find the exact term you are looking for, then you have to aim to get a close idea. All you need to get is a clue. This can be a part of a term which will be your keyword, or maybe you can also find somewhere in the explanation something that will define what you need to look for.

Once you get a clue or a close idea of what it might be, you can go to Google and do your research from there. You can also go back to steps 2, 3 and 4 (look in your bilingual and monolingual dictionaries, as well as in a publication).

As a translator specialized in the world of finance, my favorite forums I go to are ProZ.com and TranslatorsCafe.com.

ProZ.com
Translators Café

Step #6: You yourself…

The last resort I can give you based on my experience is to rely on what you already know about the subject matter. In a case like this, it is helpful to look for information in the source language, read it, and strive to understand the semantic concept. Once you have understood what this is all about, then you may possibly have a better idea of how translate the term into the target language.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end. I truly hope this was helpful and that it gave you some good insights, because that is my goal with this article. If you have any questions, make sure you drop a comment below. And if you found this mini-guide helpful, make sure you share with someone who could use it.

Prof. Richard J. Cadena

I have over 31 years of experience as a specialized financial translator. Author of my own dictionary. I am also a former ESL teacher. My greatest passions are music, basketball, my work and my family. I currently reside in Mexico.