What is a technical translation? Generally speaking, it’s a translation of materials related to technical and scientific subject domains, completed by translation experts or by a machine. From engineering to healthcare, technical translations surround and complete our everyday life. Thanks to the localization of technical documents, we can enjoy descriptions of product features, and functionalities in our language, give assembly and how-to-use instructions, and more.
For a business, technical translations have profitable applications. Opening a branch in a foreign country, bringing the product to the international market, entering a partnership with a foreign company— all this requires precisely localized documentation. Instructions, outlines, and blueprints, written in technical or scientific language, are translated, providing an understanding between business owners, branch workers, and customers around the world.
If you are interested in getting technical translation services or are just curious about translations in general, this article will provide you with structured knowledge on the subject. Today, we’ll cover what technical texts and terminology are, how technical translations are carried out, and why technical translators are important.
A technical text describes the methodologies, instructions, or processes required to perform a certain set of activities or acquire scientific knowledge. To put it simply, the purpose of a technical text is to educate or instruct.
Such texts are descriptive, precise, demonstrative, and coherent. They are used as guides by the person unfamiliar with the activity in question. They provide knowledge of a tool or methodology application, blueprints for construction, etc.
A typical technical text has the following features:
The complexity of technical documentation correlates with the field of study and the intended audience.
And that is only a small part of the documents involved in the creation of a single product. Some of them will require technical translation, some of them won’t. To simplify the difference between all types of technical documentation, they were put into two categories: product-based and process-based.
The examples of process-based documentation are:
The examples of product-based documentation are:
When it comes to translation, certain expertise in the respective field is vital, as the documents often include profound terminology and expressions inherent to the technical field.
To no surprise, a technical translator is a professional that works with technical translations. Such specialists have both linguistic and technical expertise. As they are responsible for applying their knowledge to generate translations, technical translators may also provide technical writing services.
In their work, they encounter various technical documentation, from manuals to legal documentation such as contracts, agreements, patents, etc. To be a successful translator, one should possess a set of specific skills:
It must be noted that technical translators should also follow rules of ethics surrounding the subject of their work. They might be contracted to work with sensitive information such as legal records, research, or be included in the details of product specifications. Processing documents that are highly sensitive and secret requires responsibility.
Technical documentation essentially utilizes technical terms. Technical and scientific fields have their own unique set of words, phrases, and collocations that deliver information to members related to the field. These are what are called technical terms. Terms that carry concentrated meanings have developed in a field over time.
Technical words can be found in field-specific glossaries and dictionaries. Terms serve communication purposes, so the experts of a certain field can understand each other. It’s important to understand that there’s no adequate replacement for the technical term in ordinary language.
Usage of technical terminology should be accurate, otherwise, it may lead to a document that is difficult to understand even for a specialist. When writing technical documentation, it is suggested to:
Companies that are closely connected to specific spheres of business (medical, engineering, etc.) commonly dispose of a certain set of professional dictionaries and glossaries. It’s also not uncommon for a company to have a personal brand style guide that includes specific grammar standards and tone guidelines. Style guides must be considered in translation, to keep company materials consistent.
At this stage, the translator assesses the degree of document complexity. They look closely at the terminology to determine if their expertise alone is enough to translate the document or they will have to work on something they’ve never seen before. The translator might take notes of unfamiliar terminology to conduct research and use additional resources like glossaries, dictionaries, expert consultation, company lists of terms, etc.
Based on the research done in previous steps, the expert translates the document. However, if the translation is not linear—the expert may shift from different steps of the process. They can return to the research stage to clarify a term they missed or revise the written material as they are translating. They may also apply computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools to refine the quality of translation.
Revisions are very important to support the quality of the translation. Revisions include edits and suggestions from other experts, proofreading from a native speaker, even revision from a lawyer, for example, if the documentation includes legal information. Translators may use automated quality assurance tools to speed up the process. Revisions are usually done throughout the entire translation cycle.
5. Technical writing
The final draft is compiled from revised versions of the translation and edited according to the tone and register of the original document and the author’s style. It’s considered best to follow the structure of the original document – merging or splitting paragraphs is not advised.
Let’s get to the spices of our translation recipe—some tips that will improve your work as a translator.
Everyone knows that time equals money. Technical translation is a complex task and to reach tight deadlines, you’ll have to adapt and optimize your working process. Here’s some advice on how to speed up your work:
No client welcomes sloppy, careless work. In technical translation, it is very important to keep up the quality, since a single mistake in the documentation might bring financial loss to the client. Use the help of your colleagues and modern tools for quality assurance, take courses that will improve your translation quality. Be thoughtful and precise from the very beginning to avoid extra rework, fines, and loss of clients.
Your reputation on the market depends on the quality of work submitted to a client. It is advised to provide your clients with the best experience you can. Listen carefully to their requests and vision, follow their requirements, and provide a quality product. Communicate professionally in a timely manner, be active, and give suggestions if you know how to benefit the project. Go the extra mile—and you’ll be rewarded with a satisfied client, a reputation boost, and a handsome paycheck.
Technical translators have to balance between excelling in the knowledge of languages, perfecting their craft, and being aware of the latest news in their chosen field. As an expert, you have to seek best practices wherever you can: visit translation communities and forums, take insights from blogs, and attend events. To enhance your technical vocabulary, read the latest journal articles and books related to your field. The acquired knowledge will boost your confidence and make your work easier.
Different companies and domains use various standards and metrics, and it is your job as a translator to distinguish them and apply them accurately. Stay in touch with changes in the industry you work in to avoid misunderstanding and keep all metrics in concordance.
In technical translations, there isn’t much room for wordplay, excessive usage of idioms, and expressive means. The beauty of the technical text is in its straightforwardness and quality, so for an editor, it’s important to make sure the text won’t change significantly in the tone of voice due to translation liberties.
QA experts successfully deal with the aforementioned challenges, providing consistent and accurate texts. To aid human expertise, automated QA tools are developed.
But wait, you would say, how can a machine proofread another machine or a human? The answer is—machines can and machines do! There are multiple tools for quality assurance of the translated text using modern technology. These tools won’t rule out the human expert, but provide great help to editors.
Automated QA tools not only contribute to the quality of the text but speed up the editing process. These tools detect errors in consistency, terminology, spelling, and grammar. Some of them can be integrated into translation managers, some have internal editors. If you’re curious about existing QA solutions, check out Verifika—a tool developed by Palex.
Technical translation is a challenging task and it includes a lot of hidden challenges. Considering the vitality of technical documentation, it is best to delegate this task to a professional technical translation services provider. We at Palex have extensive experience working with technical and scientific translations. We understand the importance of documentation and provide the best quality of translation. Our expert team works with over 80 languages and has experience working with multiple fields, from Life Sciences to e-learning. Feel free to contact us with any questions about translation and localization at [email protected].