Translation Services for Technical Documents: Is Automation Possible?

Translation Services for Technical Documents Is Automation Possible

If you’re looking for translation services for your technical documents, you’ve probably wondered if you can rely on an automated solution instead of a translation company.

In this post, we’ll explore how machine translation is currently helping translation service providers to excel, as well as the limitations of automated translation technology as it exists today.

Let’s begin with three questions:

The 3 Most Common Challenges of Technical Translation

What is Technical Translation?

Technical translation is defined as the linguistic and cultural adaptation of documents that facilitate production processes. There are different types of technical translation since the discipline covers a wide variety of documents and sectors. For instance, software documentation or a Health & Safety manual at a technology manufacturing company could both undergo technical document translation.

This cultural and linguistic adaptation is carried out with the purpose of making the document accessible to people from a foreign country. Usually, translation services for technical documents are requested in the context of international manufacturing processes.

Why Technical Translation is Worth Investing in

The 3 Most Common Challenges of Technical Translation

Every project comes with unique challenges. But generally, providing translation services for technical documents demands:

In this section, we’ll explore these three challenges in depth.

1. Precision

Technical documents are usually characterized by extremely precise and consistent terminology use. The reason is simple: leaving room for interpretation can cause misunderstandings. Depending on the specific type of document in question, misunderstandings can cause costly mistakes or even the loss of life.

Technical translation is one of the most strict types of translation service. In this sense, it can be compared to life sciences translation and medical translation.

2. Technical Insight

Technical translation can’t be carried out by just any translator. In fact, it’s not uncommon for technical translators to specialize in a specific industry. Examining your documents, only an experienced translator will know what each technical term means and how to translate it so it’s understood by the target audience.

It can take years to acquire this type of technical insight, but it’s absolutely essential to guarantee an accurate and reliable translation.

3. Expert Project Management

Project managers are responsible for a project’s compliance with deadlines, appropriate budget allocation, and general quality standards. In translation services for technical documents, the time management and quality assurance aspects of their job take a new kind of importance.

It’s not uncommon for technical documents to be essential for a productive process to begin, continue, or become optimized. Sometimes, these goals are extremely time-sensitive, so the translation team must minimize unnecessary tasks and guarantee a high level of quality within a very short turnaround time. Only an expert project manager, working with the right tools and the right team, can get it done.

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Why Translation Services for Technical Documents Could Be Automated

Technical document translation may seem easier to automate than other types of translation (such as literary translation, for example) because the documents in question are characterized by a usage of language that’s very precise, and almost mechanical.

In technical documents, terminology management tends to be pretty straightforward, sentence structures are usually as simple and unidirectional as possible. The type of metaphors and complex connotations that characterize other types of material are extremely rare here.

Technical documents also seem easier to automate because they rarely have the complex intentions of marketing material or literature. Their intentions are usually getting a message across so the target audience understands it and performs their job accordingly, not stirring consumer behaviour or producing certain emotions.

People, therefore, often assume that translation services for technical documents can be left in the hands of someone (or something) that doesn’t have an understanding of the differences between the source and target cultures.  

The greatest downside of automated translation solutions is that machine translation (MT) engines are yet to have the cultural insight of a professional human translator. Therefore, they tend to underperform when dealing with culturally complex source material. At first sight, one could assume that technical documents are not filled with cultural references and emotional subtleties. Therefore, they could be translated by an artificial neural network that simply renders words from one language into another. But, how true is that assumption?

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How Machine Translation Works

The field of machine translation has evolved significantly since its dawn, in the 1950s. Industry standards have moved past rule-based systems into complex models that embrace the ambiguities and complexity of language.

Back in the day, training computers to perform automated translation involved teaching the system a series of grammar rules and “feeding them” a large base of vocabulary in two different languages. But language, as it’s used in the real world, is rarely constricted to a series of easy-to-define language rules. For a computer to translate real-life text, it needed some real-life understanding of language. That’s how example-based, and then statistical models arose.

Basically, example-based machine translation engines learned from corpora, large bases of material in their language pair, by gathering language translations. Later on, statistics were brought into the mix, making it easier to understand what terms are most commonly used when translating others.

Nowadays, artificial neural networks are considered the future of machine translation. While their results are far superior to those of rule-based and statistical models, they still fail to provide 100% reliable results. And, in production processes like the ones supported by translation services for technical documents, 100% reliability is a must.

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Why a Team of Technical Translators Is Still Essential

While this model isn’t perfect, it surely reaps better results than its predecessors. Still, machine translation isn’t reliable enough to handle a translation process, end-to-end. While the definitions of technical terminology are often seen as strict and unidimensional, their meaning can slightly vary when used in real-life texts. And getting the context wrong can have devastating consequences. Especially when the material being translated is a health & safety manual or another type of extremely sensitive documentation.

When a machine translation engine “understands” the context of a term’s usage, the tool is making an assumption mechanically, by brute force. A set of artificial neural networks is still incapable of the deep cultural understanding of a professional human translator. On the other hand, crafting a precise translation often involves going for the option that’s not only precise but also most likely to be understood by the target audience. 

Each land has its own set of daily use vocabulary. This means that some words can be really common in some places, but quite strange in others. Taking Spanish as an example, the adjective “prolijo” -which means careful and prone to detail- is proper, formal, and super used in countries like Argentina. Nevertheless, it is not commonly heard in Spain, and so people over there are clueless about it.

If “prolijo” is used in a translated manual, even though it is accurate, Spaniards would have to search for its definition. Having said this, it is fair to state that the translation process entails sensitive and ethically powerful decisions, and a machine translation engine is still incapable of such a thing…yet.

Preparing for a Meeting? Pitching Technical Translation within your Organization?

Our technical document translation fact sheet is the ideal tool for you. 

Benefits of Using Machine Translation in Technical Translation

The fallibility of machine translation makes it extremely inconvenient to leave sensitive project details to the engine. But, industry-leading translation companies often use MT solutions as part of their toolkit, along with top quality translation management systems and translation memories.

Let’s take a brief look at the benefits MT brings to human translation teams:


With machine translation producing a rough first draft of the translation, technical translators can work as editors, refining the machine translation output and translating unclear or problematic passages. This is also known as Machine Translation Post Editing (MTPE). Essentially, MTPE shifts translators’ workload from time-intensive translation tasks to detail-oriented quality control. This dynamic makes it possible for translators to produce better results faster. 

Consistent terminology management

Machine translation engines, combined with rich and extensive translation memories, guarantee a consistent translation, in which a word is never replaced by two or three different synonyms. This adds to the clarity of the document while preventing common consistency errors.

The effects of MT engines in the translation workflow also benefit clients, since it reduces avoidable costs and lowers the number of billable hours a technical translation project will demand.

More than Translation Services for Technical Documents

Best-of-class translation companies understand that a technical translation project’s final deliverable shouldn’t be just raw text. That’s why they offer desktop publishing, which can’t be automated.

Desktop publishing consists of formatting your translated material so it meets the requirements of your target audience and target languages. In some cases, desktop publishing merely involves copying the layout of the original document but adapting it to better fit the new content. In other instances, the project demands a complete reimagining of the document’s layout.

This is usually the case when translating across writing systems. For instance, a material safety data sheet originally written in Japanese will have to be completely restructured if translated into Arabic.

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Desktop publishing services are usually provided by human experts collaborating with the translation team. This step is essential to make sure your project’s final deliverable is usable in the context in which you’ll need it.

You see, for a technical translation project to provide the high-quality results your business needs, you’ll need the trained eye of professional technical translators. And, most likely, extra services that only a human team can provide. While tempting, leaving your technical translation project in the hands of an automated solution (whether it’s Google Translated or a paid alternative) isn’t safe.

Want to take advantage of the cost-saving power of machine translation, while getting the culturally sensitive and holistic eye of a human translation team? Reach out to a team of tech-driven professional translators.

Combining Language Expertise & The Latest Technology

At bayantech, we provide translation services for technical documents that help businesses reach their expansion goals. With almost 20 years of international presence, we’ve collaborated with leading brands, providing translation services for manufacturing, and more. Our success formula is simple: we combine subject-matter specialists with cutting-edge technology and ISO 9001certified processes. The results are reliable, precise, and cost-efficient translations, delivered within the strictest deadlines.

Contact us today and get the quality technical translation services you’re looking for.

Start your Technical Translation Project

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