• German>English Translation
Search Menu

Many of the academic texts I translate at S Swift Translation consider forms of nearness and remoteness in human relations.


Well-researched academic translations

As a specialist academic translator working from German into English at S Swift Translation, I produce both lucid translations of academic research in the humanities and social sciences and translations of texts from the crossover area between academic research and its practical utilisation and dissemination in the spheres of policy adviceeducation and museum communication.

Academic translation – context is the clincher

I use a range of strategies and tools in a systematic and self-reflexive fashion to find the optimal form of expression for your research work. This page focuses on a few aspects of this process that are particularly relevant to the translation of research contributions. My general approach to translation is described elsewhere.

Taking account of context in order to produce sense-for-sense translations (as opposed to word-for-word translations) is a very basic translation skill: while resources like dictionaries can provide useful definitions and explanations, context is the all-important resource used to determine which pieces of information are relevant. In everyday texts, ambiguity can often be resolved by human translators using little more than a soupçon of common sense.


Context matters: keys open doors, but not if the keys in question belong to a piano or a bike lock…

Complex texts in specialist fields present greater challenges, since translators require an in-depth grasp of the specific field to pick up on the contextual signals that point towards possible translation options or rule them out. When translating research contributions such as academic essays, I pay attention to:

The disciplinary context: My areas of expertise

Since I aim to translate only texts I understand fully, I stick to fields I possess a degree of expertise in. Reverting back to an author with questions or researching issues myself can be very helpful to clarify details, but it can only prove successful when I already have sufficient background knowledge in the relevant discipline (including an awareness of its methodology and current terminology) to "peg" new information to an existing framework of knowledge.

Within the general area of the social sciences and the humanities, my core fields of expertise include:

  • Human geography
  • History
  • Political science
  • Sociology

  • Educational research
  • Religious studies
  • German studies

The overarching context: translation as academic writing

In academic discourse, correct citation is of the utmost importance: it is only through the verifiable traces of authorship running through a text that readers can corroborate statements and data and continue the pursuit of research begun by others. While it is obvious in principle that this transparency must be preserved in academic translations, adhering to elementary standards of academic practice is not always easy for translators. Consider the case of a hypothetical author pondering upon the divergent opinions of three further academics working in the same field. When her comments on the trio are translated into a language that uses different grammatical structures to mark indirect speech, the risk arises that statements could become distorted, take on new connotations, or simply be misattributed. It is important that translators are aware of these pitfalls and on their guard to ensure no errors creep in when references are being disentangled and then reassembled afresh in a new language.

Whether contributions are accepted for publication in an essay volume or specialist journal may also depend on whether certain formal or technical standards applicable to academic writing have been adhered to. These include, for example, the correct use of format templates provided by a publisher, or adherence to house styles or other editorial guidelines. As a translator, I pay careful attention to such aspects.

The reception context: media and audiences

Academic knowledge is communicated in different arenas

Lectures, for example, need to be manageable for speakers and accessible to listeners, and this means that they are translated differently to texts which will be read silently rather than heard. I usually ask what form texts will be used in so that I can come up with translations that fit the intended reception context, and I sometimes deliver more than one version of a piece, for example a publication-ready manuscript and an MP3 file with a spoken lecture text.

To annotate or not to annotate?

Even texts intended mainly for a purely academic readership can be addressed to quite diverse target groups. Some texts are aimed at highly specialist audiences within a single discipline, and translators can safely assume that the vast majority of readers will possess particular language skills or subject-specific knowledge that render the addition of explanatory notes or the translation of quotations superfluous. Other texts address a more diverse readership, perhaps because their publication in an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary context is anticipated. In this latter case, it may be advisable for translators to smuggle some extra background information into their translations (or, in rare instances, to add annotations) in order to make the translation more accessible to a wider readership. Adding too little information and giving too much can both frustrate readers: the aim should always be a translation readers find neither incomprehensible nor cluttered. I use tact and finesse as a translator (and liaise closely with authors and clients) to ensure that additions are made sparingly, inconspicuously and in a manner that does not come across as patronising.

I look forward to discovering more about your research and your translation project and seeing how your text could gain in translation. If you have a lecture, an article, a project report or a funding application that needs translating, I will be delighted to help! You can contact me using the form below or directly at sarah@s‑