Technical translation is a specialist language service that converts technical documents into other languages. Accuracy is crucial but so is clarity and technical writers know how challenging it can be to convert technical information into content that is easy to grasp – before you even think about translating the same text into other languages.
In this article, we provide six crucial tips for successful technical translation that will help you get the right information across to every language audience.
When releasing technical documents for multiple language audiences, it is worth writing and designing these documents with translation in mind from the very beginning. There are several things you can do to produce content with translation in mind:
- Define your audiences before producing the original document
- Use simple language and grammar structures in the original document
- Avoid humour, sarcasm, irony or metaphors
- Avoid phrasal verbs – e.g. use “to meet” instead of “to run into”.
- Consider text expansion when designing layouts (for more details on this refer to tip #4 below)
- Avoid using text in images where possible
- Use language experts to edit your original document
Hiring language experts to edit original documents helps because their specialty is to remove unnecessary words or overly complex sentences/grammar that could cause translation issues in the target languages.
The two most important ingredients in an efficient translation process are careful planning and having the right expertise on board.
This is a best practice for technical writing in general, but it is even more important for the translation of technical documents into other languages. Simple sentences are almost always easier to translate, but they also tend to lose less clarity and meaning through translation.
Likewise, the use of basic grammar makes things easier and helps the translation process and each language audience. Therefore, using simple sentences with basic grammar where possible will definitely help the overall translation process. A good example here is consideration of using clauses or semicolons – or replacing in-line lists with bullet points.
Not all translators have the expertise and experience required to work with technical documents so collaborating with the right language experts is essential. At translate plus for example, we only work with native-speaking linguists that specialise in technical translation and are subject matter experts, so they can promptly deal with the unique challenges of converting technical documents for other language audiences.
When hiring a language agency that specialises in technical translation, they will be able to advise you on the planning, preparation and development of technical content for translation early in the process. This includes the design and simplified language discussed in the previous two points, plus every other aspect of technical translation.
Starting to work with an experienced team of technical translators as early as possible will help minimise issues and potential revisions to the original document at the early stages of your project. We always advise our clients against leaving translation to the very final steps of production because it is most likely that they’ll be dealing with other pressing issues at that time.
Translating technical documents into other languages causes a change in the length of headings, sentences, paragraphs and words – a phenomenon known as text expansion/contraction.
This can impact the layout, page count and physical length of your technical document, from the front cover to the back page.
Earlier, we talked about the importance of writing and designing with translation in mind and text expansion is one of the most common issues with leaving translation until the latter stages of a product. English for example is a relatively compact language so translating into most languages results in text expansion, which can break layouts if the text becomes too large for containers.
This issue can be avoided (or mitigated) through the localisation of your documents for layout during the design stage.
If you know your target languages, you can roughly calculate how much text expansion/contraction to expect between language versions and create a layout that is suitable for all of them.
Visual content can be tricky in any translation project, especially in technical translation where most visuals include text. As a general rule, having text in images and other visuals should be avoided because it requires the production of multiple versions of the same image with translated text, including using the same software that was originally used to create the content to begin with – and that could be Photoshop, Illustrator or CAD.
Avoiding text in visuals isn’t always possible with technical documentation in reality so you need a process in place to manage the translation of this content effectively.
Luckily, this problem is relatively easy to overcome with careful planning. Essentially, you need to create templates for each piece of visual content in an editable format so multiple versions of each piece can be created from the original template. This requires a specialist translation service called desktop publishing (DTP) translation where language experts translate digital files using the same software you used to create the original and then save each version in the same required format.
Translation technology can reduce the time it takes to produce technical documents and improve consistency with automation. Language agencies like ourselves use a range of tools to create a more efficient translation process, including:
- Machine translation: Provides an instant, automated translation of content that we can use as a first draft to edit and correct – this should never be used for the final draft of translated content.
- Terminology management: Creates a database of translated keywords and phrases to ensure the correct translation is always used.
- Translation memory: Detects repetition in content and automatically converts it into the target language, using the same translation previously provided by translators – to ensure consistency and save them from repeating the same work.
- Translation management system: A platform or system used and provided by many translation agencies that helps manage translation projects, content and tasks in one system while providing clients with access to their documents and visibility of the translation progress.
These are the most common translation technology ‘tools’ provided in the industry – we use/provide all of them to our clients depending on their projects’ needs or on the agreement we have in place with them. We have also developed a range of other solutions that combine these technologies, and you can find out more about them on our technology page.
By using the right mix of translation technology tools, both time and money can be saved on every project – for example by producing a larger volume of content at a lower price point and within a shorter timeframe.
If you need help with your technical translation projects, our experienced team of technical translators can help. Call us on +44 (0)20 7324 0950 to speak to one of them or fill out the form on our contact page and we will get back to you.