If your company is involved with manufacturing, technology, or healthcare, chances are, there is a technical writer on the payroll.
It takes a special mix of field knowledge and writing skills to translate difficult instructions and technical jargon into everyday English. But what happens if you decide to take your product or service international? Do you need a human translator, or can a machine do the job? Could you simply have a bilingual individual assist you? Can a normal translator even translate technical content into readable material in the language of your target audience? Do you need a translator who specializes in your field? These are all great questions, so here are a few things to consider as you think through them.
Don’t Use a Machine
Don’t do it. Just don’t. Yes, machines are cheaper. Yes, they are quicker. But don’t be tempted to use one to translate your technical documents. They are already a bad choice for general translations, but for technical translations, they are even worse. In a technical document, every single word counts. One wrong word choice, and your entire meaning could be lost. If there is any time when you need to invest in an expert human translator, it is when you’re working with highly detailed technical documents. The entire goal of translating a technical document should be retain as much of its original meaning as possible. A machine simply cannot do this, as it is creating translations based mostly on statistics and dictionary meanings without context. A good technical translator will understand the technical content of your document and also know how to translate it so that it loses as little as possible of its original meaning.
Check the Experience of Your Translator
As you probably already know, someone can be a great writer but not be great at technical writing. A good technical writer needs at least some knowledge of the field they are working with. This is important because it ensures the writer will not make blatant errors and will be able to explain your product or service more clearly. So when you’re looking for a translator, you will want to look for someone who has at least a bit of knowledge and interest in your field. Technical translators normally have specialties, but if you’re not sure about a potential translator’s knowledge, test it. The best thing to do is simply talk to a potential translator about your field and ask how much they know about it. See if they are up to date on the current developments in your field and have at least a basic knowledge of the jargon. You can also ask if they have worked on any other projects in your field and see if they have samples.
Focus on Usability
The whole goal of any technical writer should be to translate difficult to read texts into texts that are usable for the average person. No one wants to buy a product, only to pull out the instructions and find them so full of technical jargon that they have no idea how to use their new item. So probably the most important question you need to ask yourself as you translate your technical texts into another language is, “Is this useable?” To be able to answer yes to this question, you need to consider a couple of things. Before you even begin the translation process, you need to make sure that you’ve had a great technical writer create documents that are already easy to read and understand. This way, you have a solid foundation, and all the human translator will have to do is make sure to translate the meaning of your documents as closely as possible. (If you have not had a technical writer work with your content yet, then you have to be absolutely sure that you are choosing a technical translator who is an expert in your field.)
Second, you want to find a translator who knows not only your desired language, but the dialect and even culture of the area you are trying to reach. This will ensure that your document is readable to all of your intended audience, from technical experts to the average person buying your product. The direct translation of a word may not always carry the closest meaning when you consider regional dialects, so it is important that your translator understands this.
Know Your Situation
Taking all of the above into account, it is important to remember that only you know the overall goal of your technical translation. You know if you are reaching out to product users, or if you are reaching out to other experts. You know the meaning you want your document to convey. So you need to make sure that you communicate your exact needs to your expert translator. You could have the best technical translator around, but it is your job to make sure he or she has a clear understanding of the goals of your project.