Translation questions summary (LONG)

Subject: Translation questions summary (LONG)
From: "Diane K. Ritchey" <dritchey -at- OCV -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 1995 10:15:46 -0800

As requested here is the summary of responses to my questions about

Thank you to all who sent me responses. Special thanks to Lisa Pena,
Kristina Ricks, Rick Lippincott, Alexander Von obert, Paige Medlin,
T Potter, and Kris Olberg.

I learned from talking to a couple of translation houses that it
takes about as long to translate as to write a document (roughly).
The price and time line seem to be fairly consistent between translation
houses. Different languages DO indeed cost different prices (which
makes sense). Turkish is going to be difficult to translate.

Does anyone have good suggestions for testing the quality of a
translation if you are not a native speaker, and do not have access
to someone in my company who is? (A friend of mine suggested that I
have a short document translated into Spanish by one house, and then
translated back into English by another house. While it might show me the
differences in translation, I think it introduces too many variables.)

Diane Ritchey
Technical Writing Supervisor
dritchey -at- ocv -dot- com


And now for a slightly horrific story. We did
translate one manual into Spanish. One of our
Customer Service reps is fluent so he basically
translated the manual. His translation process
seemed to be quite easy compared to MY writing
process. When I write anything it is reviewed
countless times before it is approved. His
translation was simply accepted at face value as
correct (even though I doubt some of the technical
terms have Spanish counterparts). C'est la vie.

We do not incorporate the translation process into
the manual development process, it is addressed as
a separate issue and the manual is given a separate


I worked on a project that translated a large (200+ panels) online
help file into Canadian French. Here's some of the things I learned:

Your management needs to understand the added time necessary at the
end of a project for translation. In our case, the online help (and
the French screen interface) were all part of the same product,
configurable at individual workstations (in French-speaking Canada, we
didn't want to get into the issue of forcing any language group to use
the "wrong" version, so each user could choose). So everything has to
go at once, there was no option to send the manuals later.

The schedule can be worked out with your translation vendor and you. I
found that constant reminders to my management were needed. Like any
software product, the dates slipped. I had to be there to shout when
they re-calculated the project schedule and left out the time needed
for translation. They forgot, because they hadn't had to allow for it

If at all possible, find, beg, borrow, or steal a reviewer who is a
native speaker of Spanish, in your target country. In our case, it was
a native French Canadian speaking sales rep, who read our files, and
made lots of corrections. The translation company (we used AT&T
Business Translations) encouraged this, and was happy to oblige us.
(If the translation company is reluctant to work with you on this,
find a new one!). It especially helps if your reviewer is familiar
with your product, or the industry or group it serves. Language is, as
we know, a tricky thing.

Maintaining documentation in another language is time-consuming, and
takes a really detail-oriented person. Talk about future updates with
the vendor ahead of time. For example, think of the process of
updating your guide in English. Several people make comments in
various chapters, you take the comments (and the grain of salt),
interview your sources, run the software or machine or whatever, and
make your changes. Version A has now changed to version B.

The translation company still has Version A. How do you effectively
communicate only those changes between A and B, to avoid the cost and
time of having them re-translate the entire guide?

With [my company], they maintained version A online for us, and when we
sent version B, they could do a comparison (with their own in-house
software) and find the places that had changed. I sometimes found it
easier, depending on the size of the changes, to go through a copy of
my new version B myself and highlight (with a yellow marker on a
hardcopy) the changes. But this only works when I know that changes
are small. If the changes are large, I just let the translators deal
with it (and make sure ahead of time that they have the facilities to
do this).

Then repeat the review process, (if possible, highlighting the
changes) and either make the review changes yourself or give them back
to the translators. In my case, I did them myself, but I also had
several years of French in school. I can read it well enough to spot
typos, but I'm not fluent... but I had enough knowledge to feel
comfortable making specific changes. I wouldn't have felt quite so
comfortable if it had been a different foreign language.

Best of luck. A good translation service makes all the difference.


We're just starting to do translations, and we -will- give them
seperate part numbers.

There's got to be -something- to distinguish the two. Otherwise, if your
Spanish-speaking customers order a book, how does your system know to
ship them the Spanish version? For that matter, if your English speaking
audience orders the same part number, what is to prevent them from getting
a Spanish book?


>From my experience, the cost of a translation will equal the cost of
preparing the original document. I've done several.

Several caveats:

DO NOT hire the girl next door who speaks Spanish to translate a technical

Translator computer programs don't work very well. I have yet to see one that
was worth the money.

Don't forget that you have to change all the callouts on the graphics too.


>o any pitfalls/horror stories you'd care to relate?

Before you get started translating, make your English version as
"translatable" as possible.

-Make sure that the graphics are both gender and culturally neutral. One way
to do this is to use silhouettes for the people.

-Get to know the cultures of the countries speaking the languages in which
the document will be used. This will help you avoid graphics that may be
offensive or meaningess. Examples: orientals find most "pointing finger"
graphics offensive, and some countries don't use mailboxes like we do.

-Avoid terminology that cannot be translated. You may be able to obtain a
list of these from someone on the list. Examples: Underneath. Use under
instead. Also, most "re" words cannot be translated, such as redo, retry,
re-create, and so on.


The majority of our clients are in South America and
my particular background is [Colombian] Spanish.

>> do you provide separate part #s for English vs. Other Language books?

We have our own internal numbering system, and our spanish
manuals have an ESP label at the end of the reference number
to show that that particular book is in spanish.

ie: MMS-95-UD (english version)
MMS-95-UD-ESP (spanish version)

we store our files on the computer these books are filed
separately under an "/esp" subdirectory, making them easy
to find.

>> do you treat the Other Language books as separate entities from
>> then on (with separate production cycles)? or do you consider
>> translation as just one more phase of document production?

We are way behind on translating our manuals into spanish (and
every other language, for that matter). Since the company began
here in the US and in other English speaking countries, the manuals
were written in English. As the company grew, there was a sudden
need for spanish manuals. For the most part, we have been
translating only the most important manuals, and there is no way
we could translate all existing manuals into Spanish; this would
take too much time and would not be useful. It wouldn't be useful
because the material is getting updated so quickly that many of
the older manuals actually describe hardware and
software that is obsolete! They served their original purpose, but
are no longer current. It has been a problem because the
tech writers can't keep up with all the changes! Once we translators
get the manuals, many changes have been made and the question
is: should we translate the manual "as is" or wait for it to be updated
and then translate it? or just go ahead and translate the existing
manual, but try to update it as we go along and include the changes
that have been made in the product? But then you have two manuals,
in two different languages that supposedly describe the same
thing, but that are different. Does this make sense?

So, the answer would be no: translating the manual is not "one
more phase of document production". The goal is to get the
manual out in English as quick as possible and when there's
a chance, it will get translated.

Obviously your company will work in it's own fashion, depending on
it's needs. If you are seriously needing all your manuals in Spanish,
you can hire a large enough staff to keep up with your English writers.

In our case, there are many more English speaking clients than
clients in any other language. Also, many of the clients in Spanish
speaking countries have staff members that read English, so they are
willing to settle for the book in English, since it's better to have the
manual in English than to have nothing! They can afford to wait
until the spanish version is out.

>> o do you find maintaining books in languages other than your own
>> native language significantly more time-consuming?

Well, it's only time consuming to those of us that work in that area
(translating) and since that's what I was hired to do... :-) It behooves
me to have this time consuming task... you know, job security!!! :-)

>> o any thoughts on how long translation time takes [per 100 pg segments]
>> (as a percentage of production time--obviously the precise time
>> must come from the translator)?

Unfortunately there are only two of us working on translating the
manuals but we are also tech writers (so we write manuals in English,
as well, if there's a need for it) and we also have other material to
translate (contracts, faxes, etc). This means that it's hard to work
exclusively on one manual and get it done, before going on to
the next task.

The last manual we translated was about 700 pages
long and took us about 6 months to finish. Our manuals have lots
of screen captures which also had to be translated (the program
had to be changed into spanish and then the screen captures
were taken). I worked exclusively on the text and my co-worker
did all the screen captures and cross referencing and stuff
like that. We worked on the manual together and it took 6
months. (!)

>> o any pitfalls/horror stories you'd care to relate?

To summarize and expound on some of what I've already

It's hard to keep up with changes the engineers are constantly
making. It makes it difficult to keep up to date with
modern technology when you're translating a manual
that was written a year ago. (Changes arise monthly
sometimes!) But, your manuals may not be subject to this

It's hard to work on a manual and be constantly
interrupted/asked to do other stuff like translate a
contract or a letter (although this does add variety to
the job!) You'd be better off hiring someone to work
exclusively on the manuals without having to do other
"small" tasks on the side!!!

I, personally, do not enjoy doing the graphics, screen
captures, etc and find that it takes my concentration
away, gives me terrible headaches and frustrates me to
no end! You are wise to either find someone who likes
to do both or hire two people to work together, one who
will do the graphics and the other who will do the text.
It was a wonderful solution for us and I couldn't have
done it without my co-worker's help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
He loves graphics and that was a great help.


>I'd like to hear your
> suggestions or experiences with handling multilingual documents
> (any language).

> o do you provide separate part #s for English vs. Other
> Language books?

If you mean part no. of the books themselves: surely, as they are different

If you mean part no. in replacement parts lists: That depends on whether the
parts are different from the original.

> o do you treat the Other Language books as separate entities
> from then on (with separate production cycles)? or do you
> consider translation as just one more phase of document production?

First you must decide on the market the book is supposed to be sold. If you do
spanish for the north-american market, you possibly might get away with a
simple translation. If the book is for another country, you might have to
rewrite it completely.

But I could imagine that Nancy Loft might tell you something about this.

> o do you find maintaining books in languages other than your
> own native language significantly more time-consuming?

Writing the original should be the most time-consuming. Everyone doing another
language version can build on the first version, even if he might be forced to
do some additional work.

> o any thoughts on how long translation time takes [per 100 pg
> segments](as a percentage of production time--obviously the precise
> time must come from the translator)?

That really depends on your topic. If you have a few 1,000 pages of
replacement parts, you might use some automatic translation tools. If you are
to translate a novel, you might have to reinvent it in another language.


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