Our Tips for Technical Translation

If globalization is part of your long-term growth strategy, then you will eventually need to translate technical documentation. Even domestically, if you employ multilingual employees, there is a need, especially when workplace safety is at stake! Manuals, user guides, data sheets, SOPs are examples of materials that need to be reproduced in different languages as your operation expands overseas.

We’ve recently attended a few trade shows and expos, where the chief concern of people we’ve spoken with has been the importance of quality technical translations. We agree, technical translations are definitely challenging. You are handing your materials off to an LSP, hoping that we will translate your materials accurately and cost-effectively. Here are some technical translation tips and strategies that we have put together, based on our experience that will help you and help us to ensure that the technical translation process runs smoothly.

1. Translation-friendly content

Slang and idioms are very difficult to translate literally. When creating your technical content, try to keep everything clear, concise, and consistent. From our experience, a lot of our clients have term preferences – if you have a style guide or glossary, you can give this to your LSP. Or, we can work with you on creating a glossary of key terms.

2. Language Expansion

Something to be aware of – languages can expand or contract. For example, when translating from English into a Romance language such as Spanish, expect a 20-30% expansion. Or, when translating from English into an Asian language such as Chinese, expect contraction. This will apply to the overall layout. Will you want to add extra pages, or will you want to shrink the spacing between lines? An LSP will ask these questions, but if you have a preference, you can let us know.

3. File prep and organization

It is best to provide your LSP with files in their original, editable formats, even if you are just looking for a quote. (A PDF is not a source file.) This way, we can run a proper word count, provide an estimate on graphic editing, and provide the best estimate on turnaround time. If source files are not available, things might get a little expensive and time consuming, as things must be recreated. Also, note that screen shots and CAD drawings are not editable. These must be recreated too, especially if you want the text from these items translated.

4. Translation Memory

Translation memory is a great tool to help save time and money for a client. With technical translation, it is paramount for many reasons. First, repetitive text such as warning labels, which are repeated throughout documents, will be the same each time. Second, translation memory is updated real time. Third, your translation memory is yours. That’s right – you own it. So over time, you will have developed a rich database of key terms and phrases that you have had previously translated, which will make the overall process more efficient and cost-effective.

5. Sample translation

It’s like going to an ice cream shop – so many flavors to choose from! Why not try a sample? Pick a small section of a manual and send it to your LSP for sample translation. Then, have your reviewers take a look at it.  This will let you get a feel for their quality and overall what the working relationship will be like.


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