The Dictionary Myth

Many people believe that a good dictionary makes half a translation. Well, actually, most translators don’t even use conventional dictionaries in their work, except perhaps to verify a few general technical terms. And only if the proper term in the other language doesn’t pop into their minds right away.

Why is that so? And what do professional translators use instead?

Professional translators have three major sources to work with instead of dictionaries:

  • Experience:
    Their experience in the subject matter, i.e. their field of expertise
  • Reference Texts:
    Relevant reference texts in both the source and the target languages
  • Terminology:
    an extensive collection of carefully compiled terms, phrases and text segments

These three elements are better aids for translation than a dictionary, because they

  • include the context
  • consider the appropriate style and target group for the translation
  • are proven and tried in real text environments

don’t trust dictionaries


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