WWW Search Interfaces for Translators - wwwsift

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The internet revolution

Up until a few years ago, obtaining the necessary reference material in order to tackle a technical translation was a costly and time-consuming task: numerous telephone calls and trips to our local library and further afield – strictly during business hours – were the only way to unearth valuable resources to help us understand the subject matter at hand and become familiar with the relevant technical terminology.

During the past few years, the internet has revolutionized the way in which we access information, offering translators new ways in which to carry out terminology research. Today, much of the information we need is just a click away, twenty-four hours a day: from general and specialized monolingual and multilingual dictionaries through illustrated – sometimes animated – product catalogues to multilingual websites with parallel texts; not to mention the myriad monolingual websites providing terminology and usage in context, constituting an enormous corpus, as it were.

More information than you can handle?

However, with the ever-growing amount of information available on the internet, searching can be a little frustrating at times:

"Which of the 508’000 pages found by Google should I open in my search for a definition of the term ‘bull market’?"

That number of pages to sift through is enough to make anybody feel like a bear with a sore head. To obtain fewer, more relevant results, we need to refine our search.

Focussed searching

This need has led to the development of a dedicated website:


Here you can find WWW Search Interfaces for Translators, a set of search techniques specially designed to meet the needs of translators and other language specialists.

These techniques allow you to perform focussed searches for glossaries and parallel texts on the internet containing specific keywords in various languages to obtain definitions and translations of all sorts of terms, including abbreviations. All you need to do is enter your search term and hit the search button: The search interfaces will refine your search, separating the wheat from the chaff, presenting you with a list of relevant results.

For example, go to the English Search Interface page (select "English" in the drop-down menu on the left) and enter the term "bull market" [with the quotation marks, to search for the exact phrase] in the Google glossary search interface then click on Find. Your search will be sent to Google automatically, along with the necessary criteria to refine your search. All you need to do now is pick a website from the list of results.

With the Altavista search interfaces you must select a technique, click on Find, and then replace "keyword" with your own term.


arrow.gif (845 bytes) lists of terminology in a specific field, generally monolingual but sometimes bi/multilingual

Glossaries can be a valuable source of terminology: Many of the glossaries available on the internet contain terms that cannot be found in any conventional dictionary either

  • because publication via the internet is that much faster than the traditional dictionary printing process – and thus better capable of keeping abreast with technology – or

  • because the terminology is company-specific and would not normally be printed for the general public.

Parallel texts

arrow.gif (845 bytes) identical texts in two or more languages

Parallel texts can be a valuable source of terminology as they provide not only translations of terms but also the exact context in which the terms are used.

Dictionaries provide many possible translations for terms, leaving you, the translator, with the task of choosing the correct translation in the given context. For example, the German term "Druck" can be translated as "pressure", "tension", "compression", "burden", "load", "shear", "thrust", "printing", "print", "copy" etc. Which term do you choose? That all depends on the context.

Parallel texts can be much more useful as they provide you with a specific translation in a specific context. They can be used to find translations of general terms – particularly combined words, for example the German "steuergŁnstig" (Steuer+gŁnstig), which dictionaries often fail to list, leaving you in the lurch – set phrases and technical terms alike.

It goes without saying that with parallel texts, in particular, you will need to assess the quality and authoritativeness of the texts that you find (Which is the original text? Which is the translation? Is it a reliable translation?).

Additional resources

As well as a large collection of general and specialized monolingual and multilingual dictionaries, on www.multilingual.ch you can also find a list of websites with parallel texts: these can be a good source of information if you are interested in a specific topic. By going directly to a specific website which has parallel texts, you can obtain more results from that particular website than if you used a general-purpose search engine such as Google or Altavista, the reason being that the site's own search engine will cover more of the site's pages, including those that have not yet been indexed by general-purpose search engines and are therefore not yet retrievable through the WWW Search Interfaces for Translators.

For more information about the search interfaces, click on the Help links on the search interfaces pages or join the wwwsift forum, a forum for discussing the use of the WWW Search Interfaces for Translators and for posting and receiving regular announcements with the URLs of websites that offer parallel texts.

These techniques and more are presented in my Internet Search Techniques Course for Translators at the former Zurich School for Translators and Interpeters (DOZ) – now part of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences Winterthur (ZHW), Department of Applied Linguistics and Cultural Studies (Switzerland), for translation students and professional translators.

For more information about upcoming internet courses at ZHW go to:

or contact: Gertrud Hofer at: Tel. ++41 43 299 60 61 or hog@zhwin.ch.

Courses can also be organized privately for teams of in-house translators (please contact me directly at: Multilingual English Translations - Tanya Harvey Ciampi).

The internet certainly offers an overwhelming amount of resources for information professionals, but we must learn to harness these resources if we are to utilize them effectively and avoid running the risk of wasting precious time surfing instead of searching.

Tanya Harvey Ciampi
wwwsift owner


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