International supply chains can’t function without timely and clear communication. Due to their very nature as international production processes, they involve multicultural stakeholders, navigating heterogeneous regulations and relying on multilingual documentation.
These factors make technical translation services a true necessity in international manufacturing. But even for stakeholders that know the importance of the technical translation process, detecting when technical translation is due and setting priorities around it can be complicated, especially in technologically complex and multifaceted production processes.
In this post, we’ll explore:
But first, it’s worth taking a look at how we define technical translation.
What Is Technical Translation?
There isn’t a unique, singular technical translation definition. What’s considered technical translation will vary across disciplines and settings. But, for the purpose of this introductory article, we’ll define technical translation as the translation of all documents involved in a production process and which contain subject-matter-specific terminology.
Consequently, these documents should only be left in the hands of specialized translation services providers.
How Technical Documentation Varies Across Domains
Types of technical translation vary across domains. Technical documents that support a medical manufacturing process will be different in format and in subject matter from the documentation of a software development project.
In the case of medical manufacturing, some documentation specific to this type of process will guarantee that the product is regulatorily compliant and that intellectual property is preserved. When it comes to software development, documentation will have to be consistently and constantly updated, to account for updates and minimize software entropy.
But ultimately, their core goal will be the same: Keeping production processes consistent, and keeping all stakeholders on the same page.
10 Types of Technical Translation You Need to Know
Analyzing various types of technical translation is a good starting point to understand what role professional translators play in a production process.
There are several translation types across the technical context ; however one could say that there are 10 main types of translation:
Let’s take a look at these document types and their specific challenges, one by one.
1. Production Handbooks
Properly translating handbooks and manuals that guide team members through the production process can feel like a balancing act. Keeping instructions actionable and tonally correct without jeopardizing technical precision is a challenge that only the best technical translation services providers can succeed at.
This type of technical translation also tends to include infographics and other elements that should be adapted to local expectations.
2. Interactive Training Material
Interactive training material (training videos, eLearning courses, etc.) is essential to the onboarding process of new employees and helps your team members stay on track of technological developments and new business goals.
While interactive training material may include on-screen text and written support material, the format involves heavily audiovisual elements. And these elements will need to be localized.
When discussing international training material in the context of types of technical document translation, you soon find that it’s never just technical translation. When translating contracts, technical translation “meets” legal translation. And when translating interactive training material, technical translation “meets” eLearning localization.
This is just one of the many reasons why it’s best to count on a versatile, experienced, and cross-disciplinary language services provider for these types of technical translation/localization projects.
3. User Manuals
User manuals can make or break a user’s experience of your product. Properly translating user manuals should be a top priority for new exporters aspiring to make a good first impression.
Just like in the aforementioned types of technical translation, user manual translation is best performed by those that can go beyond just rendering words across languages. The reason is simple: adapting a user manual to a new locale can involve translating from one writing system into another. And with this change should come deep layout changes to the manual to guarantee maximum readability.
Translating patents is essential to guarantee that the exclusivity rights of a creator over their product are protected. Patents are country-specific and usually have to be renewed every two decades.
Within international supply chains, patents serve the purpose of guaranteeing the integrity of all stakeholders.
Among these different types of technical translation, patent translation has three particularly challenging points:
- Technical terminology management is key. As legal documents, patents have to be precise and comprehensive. Vague or inaccurate translations of technical texts can make a patent practically invalid to protect the holder’s complete exclusivity over their product.
- Illustrations and sketches have to be as precise as the text they accompany.
- Regulatory differences have to be accounted for. The patent should be adapted to meet the legal standards of the target country.
5. Development Documentation
Developer documentation is essential in both open source and private projects to make sure that a codebase is scalable, solid, and easy to maintain.
The challenges of these types of technical translation projects are rather technical and related to version control. Technical writer David García recommends that software teams working across languages establish a clear policy regarding documentation updates.
In the case of fast changes that are hard to keep up with, he proposes three potential roads:
- Keeping the translated documentation intact, applying changes to the base language and translating as soon as possible, but without affecting content availability.
- Tagging outdated translations and redirecting them to the updated originals.
- Releasing updates in all languages, at the same time.
6. User Research
User research is key to product development and optimization. And when that information moves across borders, it’s best to translate it.
But user research isn’t the only research that may be shared with stakeholders at an international scale. In some cases, scientific research will be essential to move a productive process forward. For instance, this is the case in the pharmaceutical sector, where research and development is a core endeavor.
7. Material Safety Data Sheets
Material safety data sheets (MSDS) are a perfect example of what’s often at stake in technical document translation. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) defines MSDs as “documents that contain information on the potential hazards (health, fire, reactivity, and environmental) and how to work safely with the chemical product.” MSDs are the cornerstones of a company’s health & safety policy.
When it comes to these types of technical translation projects, precision is always a challenge. As the CCOHS itself notes, it’s not odd for MSDs to be hard to understand. In fact, they were originally intended solely for healthcare professionals and safety specialists. But in recent decades, MSDs have become reference documents across an organization.
Even the slightest translation error can make a controlled product seem less dangerous than it is, so quality assurance becomes a potential life-saver when working with these documents.
8. Contracts & Agreements
Technical contracts and agreements fall in the legal translation category, just like patents. But, in technical settings, contracts and agreements will also involve specific terminology, and thus require technical precision.
As we covered in a previous post, translating contracts should only be left to the experts, due to three main factors:
- Legalese can be hard to decode and properly render into another language.
- Some clauses may not be properly translated if the linguist doesn’t understand its regulatory context.
- What seems like minor details can prove themselves as extremely important down the road, and it takes a trained eye to guarantee that even the seemingly small things are properly translated.
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Contracts can be understood as a combination of formulaic language and case-specific information.
Formulaic language is a set of conventions that determine the structure and function of a legal contract. Information, on the other hand, consists of the details specific to the agreement at hand.
Naturally, doing business in specific sectors involves jargon-heavy contracts. These contracts should be best translated by a team of technical and legal translators.
9. Financial & Technical Reports
Reports allow stakeholders to keep track of their activities and improve their processes.
Supply chain data is the greatest asset guiding your C-suite’s decision-making process. This type of information makes it possible for executives to recognize success and pain points alike and get a wide and objective view of their organization.
Translating your reports for foreign stakeholders can be a great way to engage them better and benefit from their unique input.
Supply chain data is extremely delicate. Their collection has to be properly planned, and their presentation has to be intuitive and clear. These challenges are most often surpassed through the usage of state-of-the-art automated data collection tools. But all translation is in some sense a reprocessing of the original material. And in that reprocessing, it’s important not to create ambiguities that may obscure the report’s original meaning. A seasoned business translator can make an enormous difference.
10. Maintenance Manuals
Maintenance manuals guarantee consistent and effective upkeeping with a production facility and its resources. While manuals are always extremely useful, they become especially important in emergencies. A maintenance manual should include the third parties, team members, tools, and procedures involved in solving the most likely crisis situations.
In maintenance manuals, a consistent and direct writing style can go a long way. In an emergency, there’s little time for reflecting on unclear statements or scanning through text walls, so both writers and eventually translators should prioritize clarity and actionability.
Whether the manual is digital or on paper, its format will also determine its usefulness. Just like in training material translation, we’re moving beyond just rendering words from one language into another. Maintenance manuals will need to be localized.
When Is Technical Document Translation Necessary?
Seamless information traffic across the supply chain is essential to make it resilient and responsive to changes.
In international production processes that span across multicultural regions, various types of technical translation will be necessary to guarantee a consistent information flow.
The use of English or other region-specific lingua francas doesn’t minimize the need for technical translation. Local authorities will probably require relevant documentation to be presented in the local language. And even if upper management conducts meetings in a lingua franca, the best strategy to minimize the potential for imprecision in the production process is to speak to every team in their local language.
Even those with a high degree of proficiency in the lingua franca may find it intellectually demanding to use it in stressful environments. And, as the Global Campaign for Education has advocated throughout the years, people learn more with less effort, when taught in their native language. Having manuals and training material in your team’s native language can be a difference between average performance and extraordinary performance. And in this day and age, average performance is not enough.
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How to Choose the Best Professional Technical
Translation Services Providers
Providing translation services for manufacturing requires three types of expertise:
- Fluency in both languages at hand
- Knowledge of the cultures at hand and how communication conventions change across cultures
- Relevant scientific or technical knowledge
But this isn’t enough to achieve good translation results at scale. A human translator is best suited to meet their full potential when he or she is working within a team at a technical translation services provider.
Language services providers rely on technological tools that streamline the translation process, having established systems of quality control, quality assurance and accountability, and enough resources to provide accessory services. For example, Desktop Publishing.
But not all translation companies are created equal. When choosing your language partner, you should look for a translation company that has:
- A team of human translators working under expert project managers.
- Cutting-edge translation technology and digital resources, such as translation memories.
- Outstanding customer service.
- A cross-disciplinary team covering aspects of your project that surpass translation.
- The trust of industry leaders.
Two Decades of Technical Translation Experience
As the leading translation agency in the MENA Region, we at bayantech, deliver business translations for world-class giants in all industries, across languages. Contact us today and learn how technical translation services can transform your company.