Technical translation is one of the many subfields of specialized translation. In other words, not all specialized content is technical. When we talk about specialized content, we mean content that’s specific to a particular sector. Legal or financial documents are examples of specialized content that is not technical.

So, what sets technical material apart from other specialized content? In short, it is that it concerns the practical application of technological or scientific information in any number of fields: engineering, aeronautics, construction, mechanics, agriculture, IT and more. Take specifications for an airplane or telecom network, for example. These documents indicate, in concrete terms, how to build the aircraft or structure step by step, and contain many highly specific and complex concepts, terms and abbreviations.

Why is it essential to know how to distinguish this content from other specialized content? Because the right translation calls for professional and technological resources that are different from those needed for other sectors.

Some translation providers don’t make this fundamental distinction. Any professional business offering technical translation services should guarantee three critical factors, which we’ll outline for you here.

Three key success factors for managing technical translations

1. The team

The best professional translation companies have a multidisciplinary team of specialists who handle only technical translation.

  • Project managers adept at professionally analyzing each project to properly identify the technical content and the resources required for an effective translation;
  • Specialized language professionals for several essential roles: translation, of course, but also postediting—for output from machine translation engines and artificial intelligence (AI) tools—revision, and last but not least, terminology, one of the greatest challenges in technical translation.

It’s important to understand that there are no professional translators who specialize in every single field. Each person translates in a particular field or, in rare cases, in two related fields (IT and telecommunications, for example).

With technical translation, above all, the translator must know the sector, meaning they have a solid understanding of the relevant field (including the terminology and regulatory framework). Someone who is very knowledgeable about aeronautical engineering won’t usually be an expert in medical devices as well. These are two very different technical areas. In dedicated technical translation teams, there are specialists who, in addition to a degree in translation, have a degree or years of experience in specific technical fields, such as engineering or computer science.

To translate technical content, the team members’ sectoral expertise must be complemented by a very specific skill set. Three skills in particular are fundamental for technical translation:

  • Exceptional research and analytical abilities, to fully grasp the meaning of all messages, concepts, terms and abbreviations, and verify any existing target‑language equivalents using reliable sources;
  • The ability to create accurate and clear equivalents for terms that have never been translated in the target language;
  • A simple, clear and factual writing style to maximize the readability of extremely complex material: a creative, flowery or ambiguous writing style is best avoided altogether.

It’s also imperative that team members understand and comply with the strict confidentiality requirements for many technical translation projects (in the military field, for example). Everyone employed by the translation company must also have signed a confidentiality agreement.

2. The technology

Professional language service providers use a wide range of leading-edge technological tools that allow their project management and translation teams to work faster and more cost-effectively. A winning toolkit usually has a combination of the following:

  • Machine translation engines or AI applications, to quickly process new text elements;
  • Translation memories, to be consistent with past translations already approved by the client organization;
  • Termbases, to maintain accuracy and consistency in the use of myriad terms that are specific to a given field or organization.

Knowing how to choose the right combination of tools for each content type is crucial. Every tool has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, AI and machine translation tools are less effective for technical documents than they are for other specialized texts. The main reason being the sheer abundance of extremely specialized terminology, and abbreviations especially, in technical material. Generally, a suite of tools is used to make the most of their combined capabilities and eliminate the risk of errors.

Another key element of technical translation is the effective and professional use of available tools. Here are some of the factors that make all the difference:

  • Using tools that draw from relevant and high-quality corpora for the technical field in question;
  • Integrating client-specific reference documents, such as procedures, manuals or glossaries, into the corpus for that organization;
  • Having language professionals who specialize in revision and terminology management pre-edit the corpus;
  • Frequently updating the corpus to account for new realities and massive amounts of endlessly evolving terminology.

3. The process

Even with top-tier professional and technical resources, a business might not excel at technical translation if it doesn’t follow a detailed and certified process that guides all steps of its work. Here are some of the steps that may be necessary depending on the client organization and project:

  • Planning: Analyzing the client organization’s needs, establishing a dedicated project management and translation team, and preparing the necessary tools.
  • Organization: Assessing each project’s challenges, choosing the translators who are the most well-versed in the subject at hand, and identifying the client’s subject‑matter experts who can answer the translators’ questions.
  • Execution: Having language experts carry out complementary tasks (translation, postediting, terminology, revision), taking into account the objectives of the client organization, the particular challenges with the content and the tools being used.
  • Follow-up: Updating the corpus and records following every project, sharing instructions resulting from any new challenges, and requesting validation by the client organization’s subject-matter experts as needed.

An effective process should also allow for close collaboration among the teams responsible for each area of specialization. This is because, within the diverse array of content that organizations have translated, there is often overlap between sectors. In other words, technical content can show up in all kinds of documents.

Here are just three examples:
1.  A procedure for calibrating medical equipment
2.  A technical guide for a system used by a bank’s financial advisors
3.  An aircraft maintenance contract

Project managers responsible for medical (example 1), financial (example 2) or legal (example 3) content work in tandem with their colleagues from the technical team to properly assess the content. This collaboration allows the project to be assigned to the most qualified team: either a technical translation team or a hybrid technical-medical, technical-financial or technical-legal team if the document has a combination of elements that are more technical and elements that are specific to the other sector of specialization. Multidisciplinary teamwork also ensures that all the most appropriate technological resources and reference materials are used, including essential reference documents from the client organization.

Versacom: A solid partner for technical translation

Technical translation has been one of our main fields of specialization since Versacom was founded in 1995. Among the millions of documents entrusted to us each year, we can immediately distinguish the truly technical content from content that falls under other specialized sectors.

We have outstanding professionals in project management, translation, postediting, terminology management and revision for a range of technical sectors: engineering, transportation, construction, IT, telecommunications, agriculture, life sciences and more. Members of our team have often completed studies or a first career in their technical field (at engineering firms or major IT companies, for example).

Our technical translation team uses technology that draws on specialized content for relevant technical fields. In fact, we can develop a custom machine translation engine for your organization and provide exclusive access with extremely robust security measures. We ensure that your most important reference documents (procedures, manuals, glossaries, etc.) are incorporated into the corpus from the start. We thoroughly review technical content processed with AI or machine translation tools to eliminate the risk of serious errors still associated with such tools.

At Versacom, everybody works as a team—both with colleagues and with the individuals you have managing your organization’s technical translation needs and projects. This attentive, collaborative and disciplined approach means your deadlines and quality standards are met, and all at the lowest cost.

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