Technical Translations: Those who export need language experts

Translation errors can lead to equipment failure and  large financial losses.

The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) expects an export growth of six percent based on 2013 figures. The development of foreign markets is often prepared for over the entire year, although minor issues are repeatedly ignored or tackled too late. As such, many companies do not consider it necessary to translate their homepage, newsletter or technical documentation of respective products. In the case of English, these things have not been undertaken in a long time. That’s because the manufacturing company is legally obliged to provide things like user manuals in the local language. When it comes to faulty technical documentation such as those caused by translation errors, the manufacturer is liable in the case of damage. Only specialised translators can prevent these errors and allow for successful expansion.

"misleading or ambiguous wording in manuals could result in damage to our facilities or even our customers’ system parts," says Hans Peter Selb, Head of Logistics and Procurement at Abnox AG, a company that develops and manufactures products for lubricants, dispensing and high-pressure technology.

Representing more than 87 percent, EU nations are still the most popular target areas for foreign investment followed by Asia. Most companies hasten to enter new markets. The first step towards internationalisation is usually the establishment of subsidiaries for sales and customer service. As before, the lower production costs are one reason for expansion abroad although this factor has decreased in the past few years. The expense is enormous and everything must be planned in detail. The investment phase usually lasts for several years.

Entrepreneurs who have dared overseas expansion name two conditions which must be met for successful business development: the first is in-depth market knowledge and the second is a fixed network on site. Language skills are crucial especially for the latter, a fact that is often overlooked or not considered. The point is not only to communicate with partners or to translate contracts. The technical documentation for machinery and equipment must also be translated into the local language. "A Hungarian mechanical engineer barely uses an instruction manual in English," explains Frédéric Ibanez, owner of the translation agency Alphatrad (Optilingua Group). The company specialises in the translation of technical texts in more than 100 languages. Since errors or ambiguous wording can be devastating, only native speakers are employed who live in the respective country and have at least five years of professional experience. Moreover, Alphatrad works together with engineers who possess additional training in translation.

The manufacturer is liable for translation errors

The importance of a flawless translation is something Selb knows well from years of experience. It’s for that reason that Abnox lets Traducta (Optilingua Group) specialists translate their machine technical documentation into nine languages. "Technical translations are existential for us since we need to provide instruction manuals in the local language because of the legal framework," Self says. If errors occur during the assembly or system operation which are due to translation errors, the manufacturer is liable in case of damage.

Specialists for highly complex topics

In order to have a professional translator on hand for all technical areas, Alphatrad employs more than 3,500 translators worldwide. Many of them are highly specialised in areas such as mechanical engineering, systems engineering, computer science, electronics and precision engineering. The agencies clientele includes the likes of Siemens and Würth. Thanks to the versatile direction of the translation agency, all tasks can be carried out by a single service provider. In addition to technical specifications, legal translations are also one of the key strengths of the company. Since the wording of legal documentation is usually quite subtle, only cognizant personnel in the field of law are involved.

In order to select a suitable employee for each subject area, the company developed it’s AlphaSearch software. Translators who are best qualified and available for the job may thereby be determined in real time. New customers are also offered free sample translations from at least two different translators upon request. That way, the customer may select the translator whose style and spelling meets his or her wishes.

For the translation of catalogue and brochure texts as well as websites, advertising editors are also involved to check the text for general comprehension and proprietary standards. "Adapting to the cultural target market is our primary concern. It’s the only way to configure country-specific advertisements," Ibanez explains. The company’s success ultimately depends on it.