Global engineering needs translation teamwork

Few technical or engineering projects today can survive unless they operate internationally and in sectors such as Mechanical Engineering and Manufacturing Technology, global standards and operations are almost universal. Translating and interpreting skills play a critical role in ensuring that team members can communicate and in providing both partners and equipment users with manuals, instructions, operating software and other materials in their own language.

Translation requirements are all too often left until the last minute, putting time pressure on those required to get to grips with a raft of documentation and complex technical terms. While imprecise statements and even ambiguities can sometimes pass muster in the original language, the process of translation can bring them to light. Without adequate time or prior knowledge of the subject, translators often struggle to provide precise and accurate materials on time.

Most companies prefer to keep their translation errors secret and in the confidential world of R & D and new product development, they rarely see the light of day. However marketing departments frequently have their mistakes spread across the internet for all to see: the Nova car, which in Spain means ” it does not go”, or the Mist Curling Tongs in Germany, where Mist means manure, are just two examples of rushed or less than thorough translations. Amusing and costly, but the implications of similar errors in a software suite or a safety manual could be even more alarming.

The key to success, according to Dominick Kelly, Business Development Manager with translation company RWS, is to treat the translator as part of the team early in the project. Having worked with major international clients, Kelly believes that clients gets more accurate and user-friendly materials in the chosen languages, as well as more effective teamwork between international partners or offices if this principle is followed.

He explained: “Many people writing in their own language will rely on assumptions and terms recognised within peer or company groups. Even those skilled in producing precise software commands and references may use terms that are unclear in another language. The translator can pick up and help clarify these points early on, which can save time and misunderstandings during product or systems development.

Translators often help engineers to explain and accurately identify in their native language concepts used in software and referred to in user guides. If these points can be raised early in the project, it helps to clarify and establish consistent translations for international project teams.

As many projects involve new and advanced technologies, the translation team is far more likely to do the product or system justice if they have worked as part of the client’s project team – which can include Software Development and Technical Publications departments or companies – helping understand the concepts and technology involved.”

Larger projects that may involve several teams run an additional risk of inconsistency, particularly where the translation task is carried out late, with a number of translators. Each may provide a correct translation but may use different words or phrases. An example of this could be a simple term such as “eject” which is used both in the software and the user manual. It’s important that the word “eject” is consistent so that the machine operator is not confused by reading the manual but finding a different word in the software interface.

Similarly acronyms, so beloved in technical circles, can generate confusion and errors. During a project involving software listings for document production, the company faced a series of acronyms to translate. Kelly added: “At this stage the work requires interpretation and not just translation, both to understand what lies behind the acronym, which is often a highly condensed description of a process: then to render it into English in a way that accurately represents the concept and acronym and can be easily understood”.

Any translation team involved early in the process will build a translation memory and verified glossaries for both document and Human Machine Interface (HMI) content. Not only does this ensure consistency but also offers the advantage that knowledge from previous projects can be analysed and re-used, reducing duplication of workloads and increasing overall translation value.

One RWS client – a major optical equipment manufacturer – produces high volumes of technical manuals and a range of HMI software. Their expanding international presence required this material to be published in an increasing number of native languages.

They needed to identify and improve terminology across their materials, and reduce the time spent error fixing or completing repetitive tasks. To resolve these issues they looked to RWS to deliver consistency across all documents and software, and at the same time increase translation quality.

RWS created an in-house team of qualified, specialist, industry-specific translators, linguist reviewers, as well as localisation and DTP engineers, all co-ordinated by a dedicated project manager.

At the start of the project there was approximately 12% reuse of previously translated material. By the end it had risen to an average 48% with the benefit of producing a 35% cost reduction compared to previous projects. Furthermore, streamlining production of material in additional languages has reduced the company’s time-to-market of new products.

Kelly summed up: “Most larger manufacturing, engineering and technical companies understand that they should employ translators skilled and qualified in the subject, who will work into their native language. With the increase in international multi-language projects, there is every reason to make translation and interpreting an essential early component in any new venture.”

Dominick Kelly, RWS Group, +44 (0)1753 277 116; fax: +44 (0)1753 277 273.