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Technical Translations Decoded

technical documents translation

Last updated on June 5th, 2023 at 04:25 pm

translation of technical documents

Getting Technical with Translation

Technical translations combine technological data with human skill by converting the content from one language to another, producing an accurate, usable copy. The documents translated, such as equipment manuals, are first written by technical writers for use in their industry or workplace. Technical translation plays a vital role in our world and is used across different disciplines. Translators of technical materials are responsible for ensuring that the translated version is as close to verbatim as possible, and will function in the same way as the original. In this way, professional technical translators distribute valuable information, advancing industry, promoting commerce, forming relationships, introducing greater convenience to users of products and services in other languages.

Technical translation is highly specialized and challenging work, often involving languages that developed thousands of miles apart from each other and possess different structures.  Some written languages are phonetic, some symbol-based, and many have multiple dialects.  Stakes are high; not only is the integrity of the product on the line, but the safety of the clients.  Let’s look at how technical translation fits into today’s world, and how the professional technical translators work to make that world safer, smarter, and available faster worldwide.

Technically, What Needs Translation?

To understand the process of technical translation we must first look at the types of documents commonly translated. Here are examples of content technical translators work on:

  • Patents. Any patent for a product or process that will be used, sold, or created by speakers of a different language must be carefully translated by a professional skilled specifically in patent translation. This involves not only industry-specific terminology but legal language as well. Any mistake could derail plans, cause missed deadlines, and even lead to international legal trouble.
  • User manuals. From machinery to appliances, furniture to cosmetic products, children’s toys to power tools, each consumer must be given accurate translations of user manuals, suited to their dialect and the product itself. People are more likely to buy a product and have a positive experience if they understand the directions and can use the item as it is meant to be used.
  • Safety warnings. Any user of a product or procedure should be armed with clearly-written instructions on how to proceed safely. Not taking the time to make sure the technical translation is perfect is dangerous and can injure someone, which leads to bad reviews and lawsuits. Using the right translation company prevents this from happening.
  • Employee instructions, guides, and handbooks. Good technical translation in this situation is essential for efficiency, safety, and quality of product and practice. It is a waste of time if your employees have to puzzle over written directions, which is bad for company integrity if their well being is at risk.
  • Legal documents. Beyond patents, legal and technical terminology is incorporated in documents like licensing agreements, contracts, and copyright records. Having legal documents translated by experts from a professional translation agency with experience and state-of-the-art technology protects businesses from all angles.

Translating Within the Lines

There are many ways technical translations can go wrong.  Oversights are very easy to commit and very costly to fix, so it’s always smart to know what not to do.  Let’s take a look at what to avoid.

  • Relying on machine translation without control. Machine translation has come a long way in recent years and is a quick, efficient tool for translation if used wisely. However, human professionals are still needed, as machine translation cannot do full justice to context, subtle differences in dialect, or culture. If you use machine translation always evaluate your translation content after and post-edit if necessary.
  • Using vague language. Rambling, figures of speech, and local idioms will not translate well. They will cost time and effort to correct.
  • Lack of editing and proofreading. Revising translations is a crucial part of any technical translation project. Skipping it results in all kinds of mistakes, such as wrong measurements (volume, volts, cc), missing paragraphs or poorly translated text that can ruin a manufacturing equipment or harm a patient.
  • Poor record keeping and not using the translation technology available to aid translation projects.  It pays to use software that lends itself well to translation, to keep multiple versions of a file, and to gather previously-translated material that can be recycled later on. Good examples of translation technology include translation management tools and translation environments or CAT Tools.

Notes on the Process of Technical Translation

As we’ve seen, technical translations present a special kind of challenge. Even if a translator is skilled in both the source and target language, plus the client’s industry, there are still obstacles. Industries are complex, with a lot of room for specialization, and since innovations are always being made, new jargon is invented constantly. By exercising their fluency in both industry and language, they can reproduce the concepts from one language to another while losing none of the meaning. Research and asking questions when needed go a long way to producing quality in the translated technical content

Here is a basic overview of the process for Technical Translation Services:

  • In-depth analysis and planning. Within the translation company, the project manager will examine all material provided and get a thorough understanding of the data’s purpose and details. They will check to make sure resources are in order, such as glossaries, dictionaries, and style guides. The best translation team is assembled and the project is coordinated to meet the deadline and clear definition of the output expected.
  • Translation Phase. The process will vary by project, by technology and file type provided and needed. For particular files, file preparation will be required, and glossary creation is needed up front. For some projects, human translation is the only option. Other projects will be machine translated first, then put through post-editing by a human translator.
  • Editing and Proofreading Phase. Whether the output was processed by a translator or a computer program, each piece should be examined by a human professional for quality assurance and localization before use.
  • Preservation. After the output is perfected, the information will be saved securely in the appropriate file types. If desired, the information can be used to build translation memory or educate AI.
  • Multilingual DTP: Once the translation process is completed, many manuals and technical presentation require adjusting and fixing layouts. This process is done after the translation is finished and approved for the client to avoid rework.

Saying the Right Words

Now that we’ve looked at what not to do and what a technical translator does, let’s look at what business owners can do to make sure their technical translations go smoothly.

  • Select the right translation team. The right translation agency for your project will have professionals skilled in both the source and target languages, with experience in your industry, and access to supporting materials. Check reviews and ask questions to make a confident choice.
  • Plan for the project. Technical translations should not be crammed in at the last minute. Work with your translation agency to help determine the time and budget needed for your project. Plan to include editing and quality assurance.
  • Write with translation and localization in mind. This means using clear, plain language that will translate well and can be used again. Be ready for text expansion or contraction, as well as changes to graphics. This ensures the best response from the target audience.
  • Streamline and organize data. Use term glossaries and translation memories. This is good for consistency, which not only promotes safety but also reduces time and cost for future projects.
  • Help your technical translation team help you by providing plenty of information. Be communicative on your specific needs, send compatible source files, and provide any style guides, terminology glossaries and previous translations that can be useful.

Choose Reliable Technical Translation Services

JR Language Translation Services employs seasoned professional translators fluent not only in languages but diverse industries, knowledgeable project managers, advanced technology, and multilingual designers to address technical translation projects. The goal is for each business owner to be confident that they are getting the most out of their technical translation services.

Excellence in translation means never sacrificing accuracy for convenience and treating each project as equally important. Expert localization brings your message, no matter the format, home to your clients clearly, precise and culturally relevant. Making sure you selected the best translations services tells your clients that they are important to you, a crucial factor for businesses looking to pursue excellence and grow their brand.

Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela and has a BS in computer engineering. As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. 20 Years of experience in marketing Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.