Whether you work in roofing, construction, insulation, plumbing, electricity, earthmovers, machine-tool manufacturing, or virtually any industrial setting, it is a high chance that technical manuals are key elements to communicate with your customers and users. These manuals can be called user guides, installation guide, maintenance manual, safety instructions, operating manuals, etc. depending on their goal, use and people they are written for. When you go international and engage an international audience of customers, it is crucial that you can provide this essential information in their mother tongue. You might ask yourself: How to translate my technical manual (or user guide, or maintenance manuals, whatever you need to translate) into French? That’s what we’ll address in this blog post, to make sure you don’t miss anything important when you plan your translation project.
Why it is crucial to translate technical manuals accurately
Operating manuals are especially important because it is through them that you explain your customers how to use your products correctly and safely. Any failure in communicating your message to the user, or any ambiguity in the wording, and it can result in them being unable to achieve what the product is normally designed for, get a poor result, or more seriously, it can result in injuries or even death if safety instructions are not respected. Your manuals are the guarantee that your users have the best possible experience with your products. When you developed your products, you spent hours thinking, trying, fixing, improving and eventually designing a product that is perfectly fit for the job. During all these steps, you were able to spot the potential dangers, the best way to use the product, and everything that your users should pay special attention to, so that the end result is always optimal without putting the worker at risk. All this information you collected and wrote in the operation guide, so that the user experience is as good as it can be. We all want happy customers, right?
Now, you reached the point where you need to have your manuals translated for your French audience, so that they too can use your products with instructions in their native language. You are looking for a technical translator, but you are not sure where to start. Keep reading to see why it is especially important to hire a professional translator specialized in your industry to work on your user guides.
Technical translation is not difficult. Really?
It is often believed that technical translation is easy: the technical vocabulary is somehow transparent and international; sentences are short, the language is rather simple and straight to the point, and the style is unimportant, it is not literature, anyway. One could be tempted to think that whoever, more or less bilingual, can easily achieve a decent result. Nothing could be further away from the truth! Technical translation is actually difficult and should not be dealt with lightly. If they are misused, your machines can cause injuries or even possibly death. It is crucial that users know how to handle them without any possible mistake. That is the reason why it should be entrusted to specialists who have an in-depth knowledge of your industry and your products.
Challenges of Manual Translation
Terminology, i.e., the vocabulary used, is one of the biggest challenges in technical translation. Depending on the machine, the same word can have different meanings and then should be translated accordingly. Only specialists in your field can find the right word so that your manual reads as good in French as when it was originally written in English. Any amateur translator would fall in the trap, causing your customers to be unhappy because they cannot understand the assembling instructions or because the solution you provide for the troubleshooting doesn’t make any sense. You would not ask whoever in your company to write the operating manual, right? You would ask those that know what they are talking about, those that were part of the machine development. It is the same for the translation, you need to make sure that your translator is competent in your industry to communicate your instructions to your customers.
6 key points to consider for a successful user-guide translation
As discussed previously, terminology plays a crucial role in both writing and translating operating manuals. That’s why it is always a good idea to check with your translator to prepare a glossary. In doing so, you’ll make sure that the terminology is consistent throughout your technical documentation. It is especially true if several translators are working for you. With a glossary, you’ll be sure that they are all translating consistently and that your manuals or brochures will be coherent with each other in the end. There are professional tools dedicated to terminology management, speak with your translator if you want to find out more about them.
CAT tools (Computer Assisted Translation), also called translation memory, are very helpful in technical translation projects. These have nothing to do with machine translation or artificial intelligence, your translator has full control of the content of the translation. They are only helping the translators in making a faster and better quality job. For example, they allow them to find the places where there are repetitions in the document so that they translate them consistently. Then, of course, you get a discount on the repetitions because the translators can “recycle” what they have already translated previously.
If you are publishing an update on your manual or if your product is part of a series with very similar operating instructions for the other versions, don’t forget to tell your translator about it. In fact, it is important for different reasons: first, you want your newly translated manual to be in line with the rest of your product range operating guides, and then because it is very likely that you’ll find in your manual to be translated some content that you already find in some of your other products’ user guides. With the CAT tools, it will be easy to “recycle” this content and you’ll get a better price for your translation.
Before you pick a translator, make sure that s/he speaks the language of your target audience. What I mean is that if you target the Swiss market, your translator should speak French from Switzerland. Same for Canada, or Belgium, etc. If you are a Briton, you know how it can be amusing to read American or Australian English, and it is the same thing, the other way round if you are an American. You don’t want people to smile when they read your operating manual, you want them to find clear instructions on how to best use your machine.
When you translate between different languages, the length of your translated text will be variable. It is called expansion or compression rate depending on the case. When you translate from English into French (or other romance languages like Italian or Spanish), the expansion rate is typically around 20–30%, Your French text will then be about 20% longer no matter what, it is just how the language works. It is something to keep in mind and to discuss with your designers because it will influence the layout. They’ll have to fit more text in the same space and find creative solutions so that it does not look cluttered and messy. Keep in mind that your manual translated into French will be longer than the original in English. It can be problematic if you have a lot of tables or drawings with captions where space is very limited. But don’t worry, there are solutions, speak with your translator and designer about it and they’ll find a good way to solve this challenge.
Last but not least, don’t pick the first translator with the right language combination. Make sure that s/he is indeed specialized in your field and that s/he knows what s/he is talking about. You can ask for similar projects s/he has been working on or for happy clients testimonies. Make sure that the one you pick has all the skills to get your message through for your foreign customers. Remember that user experience is at stake, but not only, there can be safety issues without even speaking of your company’s reputation.
Now, you should be better equipped to move forward with your technical translation projects. Your foreign customers will soon be able to enjoy reading the operating manual of their brand-new machine in their mother tongue. That makes a huge difference and they will be grateful that you invested time and money in making their experience better. If you should have any question, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I can help you achieve a successful manual translation for your French audience, and, if I’m not a specialist in your industry, I can help you find a trusted colleague that will be able to help you. Check my services page to find out more about my specializations.