Manufacturers routinely export around the world and with it, the product’s technical documentation. However, while products and the means of operating them are universally comprehensible, exactly how one should operate them isn’t assured.
Why 100% Accurate Technical Translation Is a Must for Manufacturers
Paul Fernandez | Tomedes
This article will discuss the intricacies of technical translation and why manufacturers must routinely rely on technical translation services to ensure quality out of their translations. But if manufacturers are looking to raise their chances in succeeding in new markets, then translation will not be enough.
They will need to find the right support through localization and understand its role in today’s globalized economy. Through localization, manufacturers will be able to raise the quality and local relevance of their technical translations by adhering to linguistic nuances and cultural norms.
What is Technical Translation?
Technical translation is simply the translating material with technical subject matter. These range from manuals, white papers, technical reports, patents, and other technical documentation, including software and even marketing collateral. Technical translation services are commonly requested by diverse businesses and manufacturers such as the automotive, military, aviation, toy, smartphone, IT, and other industries.
Essentially, if you’re a company or business that is planning to sell it to foreign clients/markets, then technical translation is your ticket in exporting your products be it toys, smartphones, or a specialized CNC machine or laser engraver. The most widely requested languages in technical translation predictably come from countries with large exports.
These include Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese, Korean, and Germany. As to the other end of the language pair, English is predictably one of the, if not the most widely used source and target language since English is considered the global working language of business. Suffice to say that if an American manufacturer wants to ship a product to China, then naturally they would have to look for an English to Chinese translator.
However, they have to specify that they’re looking for a technical translator and not any other translator. We’ll find out soon as to why technical translation is more complex than many people think and why quality and accuracy is a must in technical translation.
What is a Technical Translator Compared To Other Translators?
Translators come in all sorts of colors, by which I mean the language pair and industry they want to specialize in. Whichever their chosen language pair is, they can choose to specialize in numerous forms of translation depending on their background. A number of these literary translators, marketing translators, website translators, and of course technical translators just to name a few.
As you can expect, a technical translator provides technical translation services. Like all translators, they are expected to have an excellent command of their target language pair. There are general technical translators that handle low-risk translation work such as simple user manuals of low-risk products.
But there are technical translators higher up in the career ladder and command relatively higher rates. These specialize in providing translation work exclusively to certain industries. One can say that this is when technical translators start to become truly distinct from other translators.
A. Specialized Training and Background
Some industries inherently have esoteric language conventions. For example, the IT industry has its own jargon compared to the finance and automotive industry. It’s basically the same way you would want a civil engineer to be in charge of road construction projects instead of a chemical engineer. Translators who wish to provide technical translation services to these industries need to undergo more training.
Seasoned technical translators are highly knowledgeable in subject-matters in their chosen specialization. This matters more as the industry becomes more and more nuanced such as the aviation, aerospace, medical, and other industries wherein their work entails higher risks. Naturally, these high-risk industries are very selective of who they hire and can only choose the cream of the crop. Translators wishing to work in these industries are not exempted and must undergo further study, training, and earn the appropriate certification.
B. Consistency, Accuracy, and Clarity
A common area that binds all technical translators together is the need to show consistency, accuracy and clarity in their work. This is important in technical communication in general as technical subjects naturally are presented in clear and concise language to avoid confusion. For example, user manuals can’t be, nor does it need to be written with flowery and creative language. The average person simply needs to know which button does which and how can point A lead to point B and so on.
But consistency, accuracy, and clarity is extremely important in critical documents from high-risk industries such as the financial, aviation, aerospace, and medical industry to name a few. However, this is easier said than done, especially if the language pair at hand are linguistically related. Some words and phrases will be lost in translation.
This is why technical translators must have excellent language skills and subject matter expertise. They must find accurate and appropriate substitutions that will be understable to foreign audiences in the same manner as the source text. Furthermore, they need to be up-to-date with the latest translation practices, terminologies, and language conventions concerning their language pair and industry. With new products and technologies rolling out every year, there will be newer and nuanced demands for technical translation services.
How is Technical Translation Done Today?
Technical translators use a variety of tools common in the field of translation regardless of the language pair and industry at hand. Predictably, as projects become more critical and nuanced, then they would naturally need to adjust their methods to meet the demands of the project, particularly if they’re given tight deadlines. Given the plethora of translation technologies today, translators of all industries can churn out more words than ever.
Glossaries are every translator’s best friend. They are a database of industry-approved substitutions of words, phrases, and nomenclature. With a glossary, a translator doesn’t need to check back and forth between other resources on finding the ideal substitution for a specific word. Glossaries can incorporate industry-specific terminology to maximize consistency across translations under the same field. Overall, glossaries significantly reduce redundancy in the translation process and increase efficiency many times over.
B. Machine Translation (MT)
MT is software that is programmed to render translations automatically. A notable example of MT in everyday context is a translation app such as Google Translate. But MT software used by manufacturers will likely be using more advanced MT than that of Google Translate. There are some low-risk translation work that can be fully rendered by MT. That’s because technical communication is formulaic and predictable.
Since MT runs on algorithms that recognize patterns, technical communication and technical subjects are what you could say MT’s home court advantage. But MT isn’t perfect and is still prone to mistakes. These range from harmless grammar mistakes to highly questionable language. MT’s shortcomings are even more amplified when it comes to regional languages that with relatively fewer speakers. This means less data for MT software to work with.
Although things are changing for MT with the development of neural machine translation (NMT). NMT is a revolutionary innovation that significantly enhances the learning capability of MT. This is appropriately known as ‘deep learning. Google Translate recently converted to NMT. Even with little data, it can render passable translations through trial and error if given enough time to learn.
C. Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) and Post-Editing
This process combines the best of MT and human translation. Many translation companies are now using CAT tools as it gives them the means to accommodate the world’s growing demand for language services. This is a proven process among the translation industry that offers speedier turnarounds. A translator runs the source text through the company-approved CAT tool. The translator then proofreads the text and irons out any kinks such as grammar mistakes, unsuitable word substitutions, and etc. until the text meets linguistic validation criteria.
Machine Translation vs. Technical Translation Services
Let’s take a further look at MT over here. In the field of translation, MT has been a talking point for a number of years now. Some paint MT as the final nail on the coffin of translators and translation companies and that they will all be rendered extinct. Although there have been laudable developments in machine translation, MT alone cannot replace the linguistic abilities and context comprehension of a human translator. But that doesn’t mean human translators can’t work with MT as made evident by the proliferation of CAT tools.
A translation company typically provides technical translators the necessary tools such as glossaries and company-approved CAT tools.This way, one or a team of translators will have the means to render more voluminous translations. This is essential in technical translation as manufacturers usually submit piles of paperwork to be translated. However, some would also request it to be done under tight deadlines, thus making glossaries and CAT tools even more necessary.
But how about those who understand the need for translation but don't have the budget for technical translation services? Can MT such as Google Translate do the trick? Google Translate and other translation apps are mostly free with the exception of premium subscriptions so the temperature here is understandable. All in all, it really depends on your documents and its content.
As mentioned earlier, if your user manuals for low-risk products are written with general language, then MT might suffice, but it depends also on the language you’re translating to. You can use MT for high-resource languages such as Spanish, French, German. But languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic; essentially all that doesn’t share a linguistic history with English, then MT might not be a viable option—even if it’s your only option.
We have to stress again here the significance of quality and accurate translations. Poorly made translations speak about the product and the brand, especially if you’re in the business of high-risk and highly specialized products. A single mistranslation down to the spacing and decimals means clients are unable to utilize your product accurately. When you’re exporting abroad, mistranslations heightens the risk of losing brand trust. Overall, it’s better to think of your translations as an investment that’s an integral part of your international business strategy. It would be better to stress for quality rather than rushing things.
Localization in Technical Translation
The problem with translating technical material to whichever language is the dilemma of content getting lost in translation. This matters in essential technical documents wherein one mistranslation or misplacement of a word or figure can lead to unintended consequences. Of course, technical subjects don't really contain cultural and social nuances in writing as much as creative works. But in the real world, that can’t be certain. This leads us to the importance of localization. What is localization?
Localization is the process of adapting content to fit the nuances of a target audience or market. We already talked about localization earlier in terms of the necessity to convert metrics and other units of measurement to that used by the target market. Translation is also a part of localization, but thorough localization goes more in-depth. Since manufacturers are exporting to foreign markets, they need to take into account beyond-the-surface factors and not just the language and units of measurement.
These factors can range from cultural and social norms, aesthetic choices (ex. Color, illustrations), and even taboos. In other forms of translation, these are very pronounced but not so much in technical translation, but still exists nonetheless in various ways.
Technical translations need to be culturally and socially aware of the norms of their target audience and must find the appropriate substitutions for words and even symbols. Of course, this entirely depends on the target market and document at hand, but it’s safe to assume that each foreign market will have their own system of doing things. In that case, technical localization will be your answer.
With business and collaboration between markets increasing each year thanks to 21st globalization, it’s now the norm for manufacturers of all industries to use translation as part of their operations. But since brand recognition and trust is also a priority for the success of manufacturers apart from product quality, accurate translations are one of the ways to assure that as they go global.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of ManufacturingTomorrow
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