When viewed from a common-sense perspective, user manuals, technical guides and the like are the type of document nobody really thinks about. Admittedly less glamorous than novels and poems, statistics show that technical documents account for most of the global translation output. This is because technical documentation is beneficial. Read on to find out about the advantages of translating technical documents.
What is meant by technical translation?
The goal of technical translation is to deliver highly specialized technical information in a different language from its original version. But the term “technical information” can be quite vague. What is technical translation’s actual subject matter? Unlike medical or literary translations, which are self-explanatory, the topic of technical translation can be rather ambiguous.
Expert technical translator and researcher Jody Byrne is specialized in this field, having written books and even taught university students about the intricacies of technical and scientific translation. Technical translation, Byrne claims is another type of technical communication, because it is created for a different type of target audience entirely. Since the readers of a translated text will be from a completely different background and in a very different environment, a technical translator cannot just keep the source text in mind. They must place themselves in the shoes of their audience.
In one of his books, the author refers to the US National Writers Union when describing 3 types of technical writing:
Technology Education goes by “manuals”
This is the type of technical writing that is done with a non-expert audience in mind. This means that highly technical processes are explained in such a way that the layman can understand and follow the instructions. As per Byrne’s explanation, this includes software manuals, system administration guides, and impact statements.
Traditional Technical Writing
This refers to documents such as scientific papers, technical specifications, repair and maintenance manuals, etc. The target audience in this case is made up of specialists, so the writers need to have a high level of subject matter knowledge.
Marketing content for technological companies can include website copy, product promotional content — such as social media posts — and other non-digital documents, such as product catalogues and brochures. This is created with a non-specialized audience in mind and the writers themselves do not need to be highly technical.
The benefits of translating technical documentation
The benefits of translating any and all technical documents can often be underestimated, but recent research shows they are numerous. Here’s a summary of the most important ones.
1.Expanding your brands’ reach to international markets.
Especially if your company or start-up specializes in scientific or technological products, technical translation should not be underestimated in its ability to open international doors for you. Think of the far away end-users who randomly come across a description of your product or service, thoroughly described in their own language. This could be the start of a new client, partner, of funding source for you.
On a larger scale, a professional translation of your system guidelines or quality assurance procedures could make the difference in granting you political access to a foreign market.
2.Ensuring end users can properly interact with your products and services.
A common complaint among end users around the world is that manuals and instructions are usually only available in English. This is undoubtedly negative for a brand’s image.
In a more serious scenario, a low quality — or non-existent — translation of your product’s guidelines can truly obstruct its functionality for a certain population. Ultimately, as Byrne explains, “Technical documents help readers solve problems.” This is why translating those documents will ensure your customers from multicultural backgrounds can have access to such solutions.
3.Complying with international regulations and legislation.
Mandatory translation of technical documents into several languages has become a trend in international law. This is especially the case whenever safety is a concern, but it is not limited to this area. If your company is looking to go global, translating all technical documents — such as environmental impact reports — may be a legal requirement you should be aware of.
4.Improving international collaboration in scientific, technical and industrial activities.
If it weren’t for the international spread of information, particularly technical information, the world would not have come this far. Technological and scientific collaboration on a global scale has been essential to solving many human problems, including the challenges of COVID-19. What many don’t realize is that translation is present in every step of the world’s advancements and developments. The role of the technical translator is now more important than ever in ensuring international collaboration in these areas.
The importance of professional technical translation services
About 90% of the world’s total translation output each year is that of technical-related texts, experts have estimated. This alone is sufficient evidence of the importance of technical translation in our lives. But why pay for professional services, you may think, when you have a subject matter expert who can speak a foreign language or two?
Not to underestimate your techie expert, the importance of a professional translation service lies in the audience. As Byrne claims, based on his research work, technical translation can be much more complex than other types of translation, because it should be done to suit a specific audience. And this is no simple task. It takes a specialized translator to understand both the technical aspects of the text at hand, and the cognitive universe of a specific audience in another culture.
Because technical translation involves such terminological density, but it also aims to create a specific effect on its readers, it is best to leave it to the experts!
(2006) Technical Translation. In: BYRNE J. (eds) Technical Translation. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/1-4020-4653-7_1 Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/1-4020-4653-7_1