Technical translations are all around us- from instruction manuals on your new video camera, to your pots and pans you purchased at your local cooking store. They also exists on a B2B level for employees and workers to build equipment properly. Every now and then we receive the following question from our clients, “Are technical documents the most difficult to translate?” The answer surprisingly, is no and yes. Let’s look at the “no” first.
Most of the technical translations that we provide deal with the petrochemical industry, automotive equipment, compressors, valves, electrical components, pumps and a wide variety of specialized tools. The reason I say “no” is because the writing for these projects, such as instruction, assembly, operating and repair manuals, is very straightforward. There’s no creative or expressive writing involved. There’s only one way to assemble an engine or operate a centrifugal pump or repair a broken compressor, etc. The writing is almost always direct and precise.
The translators knowing the equipment of course, do not have to question the author of the documents as to their intent, unless, that is, they find a mistake, which does happen on rare occasions. Creative writing and advertising, on the other hand, can present problems. Imagine translating the Red Bull ad “It Gives you Wiiiings!” or Typhoo’s (a brand of tea) “You only Get an ‘OO’ With Typhoo”. These are extreme examples, but nonetheless we have to deal with similar writing on a daily basis.
The reason I say “yes” to technical documents being the most difficult to translate is due to the complexity of the equipment. Imagine trying to translate an assembly and repair manual for the equipment shown below.
The translator has to understand the names of each of the parts, as well as how they function and interact with each other. It’s not the language that is difficult; it’s the machinery itself. This is why we only use translators who are engineers and experts in the specific industries involved. We wouldn’t use an automotive expert to translate a reciprocal compressor or an electrical engineer to translate an installation manual for an industrial sewage pump. For the best results, all of the pieces have to fit together like a complex puzzle. It’s teamwork with each person working in synchronicity with each other.
After a quarter century in the translation business, our team and procedure for technical translations has been tweaked and refined to near perfection.
If you’re in need of technical translations, feel free to reach out for a consultation or quote. We are happy to describe the process in further detail to help make the process easier for you and your business.
Here are two simple phrases to make a point. “You will find the books on the table.” “On the table, you will find the books.” Here we have the exact same words, but in a different order. Obviously they are both correct, but it’s interesting how many people will insist on their choice as being the correct version. This is very common and something we deal with everyday in our review process. We always make it a point to mention this to our clients prior to starting a new project or establishing a new working relationship. The preferred word in one country might not be the preferred word in another.
Not long ago we were translating a technical document that had the word, ball bearing. The document was going to be distributed in various countries in Latin America. We chose a translator from Colombia who was an engineer with more than 20 years of experience translating technical documents. His choice was rodamientos. Our client sent the translation to company offices in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Panama, and Costa Rica and received the following versions of ball bearings: rodamientos, cojinete de bolas, cojinete de municiones, rodillo, balines, rulemanes, and bolas de metal.
Our client couldn’t afford to send 7 different versions of the document, so we settled on cojinete de bolas, which perhaps was not preferred, but well enough understood by all. Typically this is not a major concern with technical terminology. A hammer is a hammer; a nail is a nail, etc. I used this example as an illustration. However, when dealing with topics such as food, clothing, etc., regionalisms often come into play. For more information see: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Regionalism+(linguistics).
Although regionalisms vary from country to country, in our experience Spanish has the widest variation.
There are 21 countries where Spanish is at least one of the recognized official languages.
For a broader perspective of language variations see: http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/countries_by_languages.htm
Our almost 30 years of experience in the translation industry at TSI is proof that we can get your documents translated properly, and unlike other companies, we use real human translators who speak the language natively. Reach out for an estimate if you're in need of document translation of any kind.
In our almost 30 years of translation services for our vast amount of clients, we've come across many different hurdles, especially in the world of technical terminology translations.
In a few words translation means conveying words, ideas and intent from one language to another.
Words are the building blocks of any spoken or written language. In and of themselves, they have very limited meaning. Even one word added, deleted or replaced in a phrase can dramatically change the meaning or intent of the message.
For example, the following 7-word phrases have just one different word, but a world of difference. “See the books on the table”. “Move the books on the table.” This may sound elementary, but it indicates intent. The first intent is passive, while the second is active. It’s absolutely crucial for a translator to understand the intent of the client. Is the client trying to inform, persuade, enlighten, alert, advise, etc.? As machine translation (using computers to translate) grows in popularity, it falls short and is generally quite inadequate when trying to decipher intent.
A computer will recognize thousands of words, but it isn’t able to get into the mind of the writer or speaker. For an in-depth comparison of human vs. machine translation see: http://www.anecsys.com/2015/04/human-translation-vs-machine-translation/.
If you’re trying to read an email from a long lost cousin who speaks another language, or you only need to get a general idea of what is written, then by all means try one of the common online translation sites such as https://www.translate.google.com/ or https://www.babelfish.com/. Quite often, especially when dealing with advertising or marketing, intent is not clear. Coca Cola has a well-known campaign called “Coke is it!” The intent, of course, is to sell their product. But how does one translate this? And how does one translate this with style? These are just a few of the things translators deal with on a daily basis. Here are a few more examples of Coke slogans. “Ice-cold sunshine.” “America's favorite moment.” “Passport to refreshment.” “Coke knows no season.” “For people on the go.” “It's the real thing.” “Coke adds life.” “Life tastes good.” “Make It Real.” “Open Happiness.” “Taste The Feeling.” and "As it should be." Send any of these slogans to a dozen different translators working with the same language pairs and you’ll get at least 6 different translations, perhaps more. And, they will all be correct.
If you're in need to technical document translations, or any other form of documents like HR translations, or Amazon page listing translations, feel free to reach out for an estimate. Here at TSI, our job is to make yours easier.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.