Tackling Technical Translations

In 2017 seven of the UK’s top ten largest export commodities were from the manufacturing sector; goods manufactured in the UK and exported overseas. In total these seven commodities equated to around 361 billion pounds worth of business, which is an incredible amount of money!

These commodities will all be exported with a variety of written documentation, all of which is likely to be required in the local languages of the countries to which they are being exported. Here there is a huge need for professional, technical translation services from vendors who can handle the highly technical nature of said documentation.

Organisations involved in engineering, manufacturing, chemicals, material handling, and even medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, each have their own specific needs and a required level of expertise which must be transferred into all languages in which they communicate. Documentation such as O&M manuals, technical drawings, safety data sheets, patents, audits, reports, packaging, CLP labels etcetera are all highly specialised and it takes a certain type of translator to do the job.

In this post we highlight four really important factors that need to be tackled to produce quality technical translations.

1. Subject matter expertise

First things first, you wouldn’t ask a tour guide to build an industrial drilling machine, would you? So, you wouldn’t want a translator used to working for travel and tourism clients to translate the installation instructions that accompany the drilling machine either, right? Exactly!

Subject matter expertise is by far the most important thing when it comes to technical translation. You want to work with a provider who has experience working in your sector, or similar, and who can provide evidence such as case studies, testimonials and client references.

Their translators should also demonstrate experience either from actively working in your industry, or through at least five years’ experience working on technical translation project. Continuing professional development (CPD) is incredibly important here too so it’s worth asking for a list of all the CPD activities they have completed in the last two years.

2. Glossaries and terminology management

In addition to that all important expertise is the correct and consistent use of industry specific terminology, and that can only be done by adhering to glossaries.

As we outlined in our Fundamentals of Translation post, you should work with your language service provider to ensure that any and all of your applicable glossaries are localised for each of your target markets. There should also be a workflow for reviewing and updating your glossaries at least once every two years.

When it comes to technical documentation there are four different categories which terminology falls into:

  1. Traditional glossaries
  2. Untranslatables
  3. UI glossaries
  4. Regulatory terminology

Translatable glossaries usually contain the core terminology used in specific industries and companies. These can be localised for use during the translation process and contain an explanation of the term and the varying contexts in which it can appear. Untranslatables on the other hand are terms which should not be translated in the local language such as branded or trade marked terms, and product names.

UI (User Interface) glossaries are more related to digital applications and software. However, in the case of machinery it can also be required to ensure that on-board control systems are consistent with their supportive materials such as instruction manuals or user guides.

Finally, in industries such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals there are very specific regulatory terms which need to be used correctly and consistently throughout the applicable documentation. There are a variety of official bodies who produce glossaries of regulated terminology, including the EU, so it is important to ensure that your translators are clued up and using the most up to date terms.

3. File formats

When it comes to the file formats that are used to generate technical documentation there really is no limit. Every organisation has their own preferred way to author their materials, but some of the most frequently received formats we’re used to receiving at Ultimate Languages include; MadCap Flare, FrameMaker, LibreOffice Writer and Apple iBooks Author.

There are also AutoCAD files which can take a bit of work to localise, if needed, and then there are Product information management (PIM) systems which are becoming a lot more widely used.

Each of these take a bit of preparation prior to translation so it’s highly likely that your chosen vendor will apply localisation engineering hours of some kind, but don’t be put off by this as language service providers who are used to handling technical documentation know about the repetitive nature of the content and will look to find the most streamlined and efficient way of managing your technical projects. In other words, there might be a higher up-front cost, but you’ll benefit from the work later down the line through cost savings.

4. Validator liaison

Our final bit of advice here relates to involving your in-country teams or representatives in the translation process. The reason for this is because of the specialised nature of the content. Technical authors, sales people and distributers who are all native speakers of your required languages are incredibly valuable resources.

The main things to consider here are:

  1. Does the individual have the time to help?
  2. Are you involving them from the very beginning of the translation process?

In our experience it’s very important to get the in-country teams to buy into the translation process, after all it is in their interest as it’s allowing them to do their jobs. To do this the teams or individuals need to be made aware of what they are going to be asked to do and what your expectations are of them.

Involvement in the translation process can be as simple as approving or enhancing localised glossaries once they have been created, or as hands-on as reviewing and approving each piece of translated content before it is published. A good place to start is by reading our blog on revision, review and proofreading as this will help you to define the role you want to assign to your validators.

We find that clients who involve their in-market teams at the early stages benefit from happy international teams and high-quality translations, however if it’s not possible for your organisation to dedicate such time to approving translations then it is recommended that a second layer of revision and review is applied, in line with the ISO 17100 international standard in Translation Services.

A good language service provider should offer you validator liaison whereby they communicate directly with your in-country teams so that you don’t have to act as the middle man. Of course, this is something to discuss with your chosen provider as part of your overall technical translation solution.

We hope this introductory post has given you a good overview of the things that you may encounter when outsourcing technical translation projects. If you have any questions or would like to discuss your technical translation requirements with a member of the Ultimate Languages team then please contact us.

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