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.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.