The translator's research toolbox
This article contains tools and techniques useful in searching for translations, including links to dictionaries and terminology databases, strategies you can use when dictionaries fail, advice on making use of advanced search techniques and evaluating search results, and information on where to get help from other translators and how to ask questions to get the answers you are looking for.
Dictionaries, glossaries and other useful websites
This section will point you to several useful online dictionaries and other websites that may come in handy when looking for translations. You should also be able to find similar resources specific to your language. To help other translators in your community, you can create an article with useful links for your language's version of OTPedia (see this guide to editing OTPedia pages).
You should be able to find multiple bilingual dictionaries for your language pair online. Here are just a few suggestions of online bilingual dictionaries that cover several languages:
- Wiktionary - 33+ languages; in principle, these are monolingual dictionaries, but multiple entries also link to translations
- Wordreference.com - 15+ languages, some with additional resources (e.g. a thesaurus)
- TheFreeDictionary - 13+ languages, as well as monolingual English resources
- Oxford Dictionaries - 7+ languages, as well as multiple monolingual English resources
Monolingual dictionaries of English
You should be able to find multiple monolingual dictionaries for your language online. Below, you can find some suggestions of online monolingual dictionaries of English, which can help you in finding out what a word or term means exactly, before you go on to search for a translation.
- OneLook - provides definitions from over 1000 dictionaries, including glossaries and encyclopedias
- Wiktionary - monolingual dictionaries in 33+ languages, including English
- Wordnik - provides results from a few dictionaries, as well as visual examples, synonyms, related word lists, etc. The only dictionary with its own TEDTalk.
These resources provide terms, definitions and translations into multiple languages.
- The United Nations Terminology Database - terminology in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish
- Microsoft Language Portal - computer terminology in over 100 languages
- Interactive Terminology for Europe - terminology in 25 EU languages
- Euro Term Bank - terminology in 33 languages
- Terminology databases - a list of links to multiple terminology databases from the European Parliament's Terminology Coordination website
A text corpus is an enormous structured searchable set of texts. You can use corpora to search for a phrase in your language and make sure that it's correct or common enough to use in your translation. You should be able to find a corpus for your language online, but here are some links to get you started:
- A list of non-English corpora by David Lee
- A list of well-known corpora in English and other languages, by Richard Xiao
- Wordnet Annotated Corpora in English and other languages, by the Global WordNet Association
When dictionaries fail: Context searching
Let's say that you are looking for the equivalent of the English word "hammer" in your language. You can't find the translation in any dictionary, and the English Wikipedia article for "hammer" does not link to an article in your language. Below, you will find two strategies that you can use to find a translation in such cases, by exploiting context. To see an example, watch this video that shows the detective work that went into researching one term in a TEDTalk. Note that "term" below simply refers to a specific vocabulary item (word or phrase), and does not necessarily mean a scientific term.
Search for a more generic term
First, try to get an understanding of the original term that will be enough to come up with a more general category of things that includes it. By reading about hammers on Wikipedia and in other online sources, even if you are not an expert on hammers, you will quickly see that hammers are one of several types of tools used for small repairs around the house. Try to find a category that is generic enough to include the term you are looking for, but not too general (for example, in this case, "tool" would be too general, but "household tool" would point you to things like hammers). Try to find a category whose name you know in your target language. If you don't know the exact equivalent of the more generic term in your language, you can try a few versions, like "tools in the house" or "home repair tool."
Now, search for the more general category in your target language. You may find a Wikipedia article or other websites discussing things in this category. Having read about what a "hammer" does, search these pages until you find a description of something that works in the same way. There, you will find the equivalent of "hammer" in your language. For example, if after looking for the term "household tools" in your language, you find a list of items on a hardware store website, and one of the descriptions says "easy grip, helps in driving nails into hard wood," you can assume this thing is close to what a "hammer" means in English.
Always do another search with the term you found, to make sure this translation is common enough and really refers to what the term "hammer" means as used in the talk you are translating.
HINT: Sometimes, you will be able to use this strategy to find an equivalent right on Wikipedia: the specific term may not have a linked article in your language, but an article on the more general term might, and there, you may be able to find your translation, or even a link to an article on the specific term you are looking for. In such cases, it is good practice to add that link to the article in your language from the article you started out with, to help other translators in the future.
This strategy is similar, but instead of looking for something more general that may include the term you're interested in, you search for one or more terms that are equally specific, but are more common and / or likely to be used together. If you know the equivalents of those terms in your language, you can use them to search for context where the term you're looking for is likely to be found. For example, while reading about the mysterious "hammers," you would find out that they are often used with nails, walls, and paintings. In your language, you could then search for things like "nail painting to wall" or "nail painting wall home improvement," and then scan the pages you found for descriptions of things that seem to be the same object that the word "hammer" refers to in English.
You can of course combine these related terms with a more general category, searching for something like "tool nail wall," to further refine your results.
Context search for the spelling of proper names
You can use the strategies above when searching for the spelling of a proper name in transcripts. For example, if the speaker mentions a colleague she co-authored a paper with, you can search for the speaker's name and a few related terms related to the topic of the paper to find it online and obtain the proper spelling of that co-author's name.
Mastering Google searches
By exploiting advanced search techniques and carefully evaluating the search results, you can get a lot more out of Googling for translations.
- You can search through a particular website by adding "site:website.com" to your search query ("website.com" should be replaced by the actual address of the website)
- You can search for the exact query (not variants, e.g. plural) by using quotation marks around the query (e.g. "my search term"). You can also put an asterisk inside it to mean "search for this exact query but with any words where I put the asterisk." For example, assume you are translating into English, and you vaguely remember the idiom "break the news to someone" but you're not sure if you can modify the word "news" in this expression. Searching for "break * news to someone" (quotes + asterisk) would reveal that people also say "break hard/bad/difficult/that news to someone."
- You can use the logical operator OR to search for websites that contain just one of several terms (by default, Google searches for sites that contain all of the terms you entered). You can use the minus or dash to exclude sites with a particular term from the search results.
- This advanced search form offers multiple other search modifiers. For example, you can restrict the results to sites in a specific language (e.g. for terms with different meanings across languages), or to a specific time (e.g. to see only recent results).
To learn more about searching in Google, see this guide.
Selecting among the search results
You will often find a few different translations of one term. The strategies below should be helpful in assessing which results are more trustworthy.
You can compare the frequency with which each of your term is used. The more frequent term is often the more correct translation, especially when the difference in occurrence is high (e.g. 1000 for one term and 100,000 for the other). However, incorrect translations can also be frequent, so frequency alone is rarely enough to judge whether a translation is correct.
When assessing frequency of use, try to phrase the search expression in a way that will get you results for the specific meaning of the term you are looking for. If your term can be used in a few different meanings, consider using an advanced Google search to make sure you will get the frequency results just for the term you are looking for. For example, when searching for the English term "bottle rocket," you may want to eliminate results that refer to the movie "Bottle Rocket," by using a phrase like "bottle rocket" -movie|film|anderson. (Note: by using the vertical bar instead of OR, you can subtract multiple search terms from your results).
Authoritative vs user-created sources
Pages that are likely to undergo some quality checking, like articles in technical journals, should usually be considered more trustworthy than user-generated content (like blog posts).
Original vs translated sources
Sources originally written in your language (like online articles) are usually more trustworthy than websites translated from another language (like a local version of an international website). Translated websites may contain passages that are overly influenced by the original language, or terms that have not been researched properly.
If you can't find anything online, you can always ask a fellow translator! Here are some suggestions of how you can search for help. Always remember to do thorough research on your own first, and only then ask others for help.
Ask the question in the right way
Always make sure to do thorough research before you ask others for help. Add context. Indicate which talk the term comes from, quote the whole sentence and add any relevant information from the talk (e.g. "the speaker mentions several similar terms before: A, B, C").
If you have found some helpful resources that may suggest a solution, include links and information in your question. For example, if you don't know how to translate a term, but you have found a monolingual definition that explains the specific way it is used in the talk, share a link to this definition, since it may help the readers come up with an answer to your question. Try to avoid having others redo the research you have already covered.
HINT: Always include the Amara link to the talk. To make it easier for the people who will be trying to help you, also link them directly to the point in the talk where the sentence containing your term is spoken. To get a direct link to a specific time in the video on YouTube, click "Share" under the video, check "Start at" and use the current time in the player or enter the time manually. To find the YouTube link to a TEDx or TED-Ed video on Amara, play the video, right-click the player, select "Get URL" and copy the link provided. You can find TEDTalks in the official TED channel on YouTube.
Kudoz and Wordreference forumsKudoz Term Questions database is a section of ProZ, the world's biggest translation website. You should first search the existing questions and answers, using the search box on the website or a site-wide Google search (see the Google search tips below). If you can't find what you are looking for, sign up and ask the question. Make sure to follow the posting guidelines, share context, and add links to what you have already found. You can ask questions about terminology, but also difficult idioms and turns of phrase.
In the Wordreference forums, users can ask language-related questions, and get answers from other users and language professionals (note: responses from experienced users and native speakers are often more reliable). As usual, make sure to search the forums for existing questions about the same term or expression, before you decide to post your own.
OTP on Facebook
Reach out to the Open Translation Project community on Facebook. Questions about English (terms, idioms or phrases that are difficult to understand) can be shared in the general I translate TEDTalks or I transcribe TEDx talks groups. Questions related to another language can be asked in the appropriate local language group.
Contact the speaker/organizer
If everything else fails, or if you are dealing with something only the speaker can know (e.g. the spelling of the names of the creators of an unreleased product), you can contact the speaker and the organizer of the TEDx conference that the talk you're subtitling comes from. You can often find the speaker's public email address (or a social media account) by Googling their names or the names of their organization. You can contact the organizer, or the TEDx team, through the event's website online. Speakers and organizers are likely to help you if you explain that you are a volunteer subtitling their talk in TED's Open Translation Project.