Re: Translations of Owner's Guides?

Subject: Re: Translations of Owner's Guides?
From: Robert Bononno <bononno -at- ACF2 -dot- NYU -dot- EDU>
Date: Tue, 12 Apr 1994 19:58:56 -0400

On Mon, 11 Apr 1994, Jonathan Price wrote:

> I know this is not quite answering your questions, but it's something I've
> been working on with Japanese customers. They tend to find even our best
> Western manuals a pain in the you know what when directly translated,
> particularly when the translator is living in the U.S., and out of touch with
> current Japanese, or computer talk in Japan.

The current practice (though it's not always adhered to) is to have
manuals translated by mother-tongue translators in the country of use.
SOmetimes they can be translated by mother-tongue translators living
abroad, providing they're on top of current usage in the field.

> >From anecdotal evidence, I have come to the conclusion that you ought to ask
> a native speaker to do a complete rewrite (not translation) when going from
> the U.S. to any Asian country, to the Germanic parts of Europe, and to
> France.

Well, this may be desirable but I would imagine it adds an additional
expense that companies probably won't want to pay. In order to the
rewrite, they'll probably need a good translation to start with, unless
you're going to go through the entire process of preparing documentation
in every single country you sell to, with different teams of writers in
each. Doesn't sound cost effective.

It might even be worthwhile to have a _good_ translation done and then
have it copy-edited in the country of use. This can help a great deal to
naturalize a text.

Several Dutch studies show that the French expect a top-down
> rational explanation of key concepts, then minor concepts, then, almost
> incidentally, procedures, while the Germanic group (Holland, Denmark,
> Scandinavia, Germany, Austria) expect no-nonsense how-to stuff right off, and
> please postpone any conceptual stuff for later in the book.

Well, this may be true, but short of completely rethinking and then
rewriting the documentation, it doesn't sound feasible. It could also
introduce problems of continuity between manuals (assuming they're
manuals and not user guides for appliances) and even more serious
problems with things like screen menus, which are even more constrained.

> Think about it as a native speaker of American: even if the manual started
> off terrific in Korean, how useful is it going to be to an American who
> hasn't finished high school, if we get a direct translation? As writers,

I'm not sure what you mean by "direct" translation? You mean literal? If
so, that's what I would characterize as a bad translation. A savvy
translator can do a lot with a manual (within limits, i.e., he/she can't
rewrite it or re-order ideas).

> should support real writers around the world. The translators can come in
> who have relied on direct translations of manuals from Apple and IBM).

Well, take a look at some of the original IBM docs. Are you surprised
that the translations aren't better than they are?

Robert Bononno /// Techline
bononno -at- acf2 -dot- nyu -dot- edu
CIS 73670,1570

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