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The Concept of Avoiding Translation
Thread poster: Heinrich Pesch

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 17:09
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Dec 4, 2007

I hope this will not offend too many of my colleagues. We all love to get fat jobs, the more text the better, more words = more bucks.
But after all we are serving the community of people, who eventually (hopefully) will read our texts. Very often I feel sorry for the future reader, but the duty of the translator is primarily to satisfy the paying customer. There however is very often a conflict.

You probably have seen the assembly instructions that come with furniture from IKEA. The owner of IKEA, Mr. Kamprad, is still very active and sees to every detail of his international business. In those instructions there is nothing to translate. NO TEXT. But they work. (Textless instructions of other venders of furnitures may not work as well).

I translate very often instructions for consumer electronics. I have seen the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in this field.
Fortunately the instructions for my own digital tv-receiver belong to the Good group. I very often refer to these instructions when I have to translate consumer electronics instructions. Whenever possible.

Many manufacturers of these devices follow the outdated concept: A thousand words are better than one picture. And though they also use pictures, they do not take full advantage of them.

The Bad concept:

Pictures of the device from all sides and a numbered list of the connections. The name of the connections will be translated. Later on in the text there will be chapters about how to connect the different connections to other devices.

The Good concept:

Pictures of the device and a numbered list of the inscriptions at the device (which do not need to be translated) and right along with it the instructions, what to do with the connection:

4. Antenna IN
Connect with your TV-aerial

5. Audio OUT (L/R)
Connect with the Audio IN connectors of your stereo system

You see what I mean. When the end-user has to install the new box in her living room, she can keep the page with the pictures open and does not have to read at all the chapter "Connecting the device to your stereo system", while she figures out, which cable should be put into which hole.

Some user instructions have 10 000 words, some other for the same type of technology only 3000. Which of them serves the consumer better?

There is no forum for discussions about technical writing, so I put this here.

Good night and good luck next time you purchase a piece of consumer electronics.

Heinrich


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 17:09
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
good point Dec 4, 2007

"Very often I feel sorry for the future reader, but the duty of the translator is primarily to satisfy the paying customer." - golden words. But having in mind that those manuals are intended as info for the end user, I think that the translator must ballance and satisfy the customer, and make the client happy. How to feed the wolf and have the sheep alive? A suggestion to solve the dilemma - to let the wolf have the shepherd for dinner.

I would also add that I often feel sorry about the reader of the source text. Recently I have translated a very simple manual of a CD player. Well, it was so wordy - was there any sense to "textualize" all those instructions where 999 out of 1000 people do know how to use the CD player (i.e. how to make the CD play, how to pause, how to insert it, how to adjust the volume, etc.). Well, I'd still understand all those "disclaimers" and "precautions" where the make of the device wants to be ensured that a CD player will not be immersed into water, or they want to put a WARNING!!! that a microwave oven is not suitable for drying pet cats...But when almost 2 pages explain how to unpack the device, well... And I there were almost a page about changing tracks of the CD/MP3 with a text like "Single pressed, skip the playing track (file) to next track (file) for normal play/pause mode, to next program index track (file) for program play/pause mode, to next random track (file) for random play/pause mode.", well, I really got confused. Both trying to understand the text, and trying to translate it. Good that it was JUST a CD player - so simply took a glance into my own CD player and translated just in the "ordinary meaning" (and that "picture" I saw at my CD could simply be in the source text - just a pointer with some text "to skip track", "fast rewind", etc.).

But imagine situations when there is a really complex technical device - the more you read, the less you understand what that device is all about.

And about the future readers - bought a plasma TV with a translation of the manual into my native language. Well, it had so many functions and new things that half of it I had to "learn". Tried to read the native-speaker version, well, dropped it on the sofa as I COULD NOT understand anything (simply from the logical/linguistic side). Then opened the English version - the texts were same "complexity" like my sample about the CD above...Well, could understand just some sentences about how good this device is)) But how to use it - well... Had to ask my 8-year old son to help me up and we solved all those problems on primary setting of the device, etc. - WITHOUT THAT MANUAL. Well, it took about an hour experimenting with those dozens of buttons (and the device still works as it has many "protections against a dumb user"), but reading the manual would have taken 2 hours...Without the possibility to understant its contents.



My question - shall the "Bad concept" user manual writers simply have the manual made and translated as a simple formality? At least under our country laws, it is written that the product seller MUST provide a user manual in the state language. And they can have problems if you complain they did not provide it. BUT not a single word is written about the quality of the language, i.e. meant for the end reader to be able to understand - not just an official document for being able to show "here is the manual in the languages needed", so we can permits to import it...Well, linguistic level - who can judge about it? Only a formality is needed and here is the formal requirement fulfilled. What else do you need?



[Edited at 2007-12-04 02:07]


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bohy  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:09
English to French
+ ...
our feedback could be valuable Dec 4, 2007

I wonder if any of the companies which ask us to translate their documents have ever realized that we read them thoroughly and MUST understand what is written. We can (and do) spot a lot of mistakes, errors, and yet nobody asks for our feedback... When we provide some, we never know if it is used...
Our feedback should be mandatory and paid for. If they had to pay for it, our customers would probably consider making value out of their investment.


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Nadja Balogh  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:09
Member (2007)
Japanese to German
+ ...
Manuals never explain what I really need to know Dec 4, 2007

Manuals... no matter if it's those I'm sometimes asked to translate (usually from English, having been translated by some Japanese person into bad English, to be then translated by me into German while constantly trying to look for the Japanese original behind the terrible English in order to get some sense out of the whole thing) or if it's those I have to install at home - they always fail to explain the crucial parts, and instead, as mentioned above, go on endlessly with silly precautions and obvious information.

Most manuals make me feel nauseous - I start feeling bad right now just thinking about them - but hey - great topic!


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 17:09
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
They will lose money and the market Dec 4, 2007

What the customers very often do not understand, is, that good instructions help to sell. There are so many brands which have excellent manuals.

I believe the IKEA-method could be applied to most modern consumer electronics products. But it requires that they would hire people who know how to draw to replace those guys that cannot write.

Regards
Heinrich


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 16:09
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Pretty fast things can get hairy and scarry... Dec 4, 2007

We - as an industry - have enough to do to keep OUR noses clean. I had my share of horrible translations to proofread and to correct. Some of them were directly dangerous to the user. The example that made my hair stand up was as follows: (context: security perimeter, isolating chemical, mechanical, thermal killer of a machine of several hundred tons from its environs when operatin. The red light above the door, that's supposed to be closed, is blinking)

Original: The door XYZ is opened!

Translation: Open the XYZ door!

I am working right now on a final redaction of a documentation for a moving machinery, where basic verbs for movements and actions (wippen, heben, drehen, anschlagen, einscherren, ausscherren - cut out with scissors was one suggestion) were not understood by some of my predecessors.


[Urejeno ob 2007-12-04 15:19]


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:09
English to Spanish
+ ...
A Good Concept Dec 4, 2007

I think what is mentioned is a good concept in numerous areas. Instructions for machines and devices is only one. Another one has to do with social communication, medical information and similar items, and we could surely think of many more. People have worked in these areas, but progress is slow because a retrograde mentality at the top must be overcome, and we are at the bottom.

As for me, I never read the instructions anyway, I just start fiddling with stuff.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:09
English to French
+ ...
Technical writer before anything else Dec 4, 2007

In my opinion, a technical translator - the kind that translates technical text rather than literature - should be a technical writer before becoming a translator. If one cannot write such texts professionally, then how can one translate them? The aim of technical manuals is to help someone understand how something works and how to handle something to be able to use it properly. Present the information the wrong way - and the entire text is useless. And that is not the only problem: when the text becomes useless, end users may feel tempted to claim warranty, to egt reimbursed and in some cases even go to court because some other goods may have broken because of the bad use of equipment, which in turn is because the instructions were unclear or erroneous.

By being a technical writer also, translators are able to counsel the client when the source text is not quite good or help to make it even better before translation. This would actually give a little more credibility to the translator, so that when the translator tries to help the client, the client will actually listen - after all, this guy's a technical writer, so he knows better.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:09
English to French
+ ...
In the meantime... Dec 4, 2007

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

But it requires that they would hire people who know how to draw to replace those guys that cannot write.


In the meantime, hiring people who can write would be a start...


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 17:09
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The Less the Better Dec 5, 2007

I should have guessed, that talking to translators about the need for less text is like talking to lawers about the need to avoid law suits
Of course they would respond that we need better judges.

But if we are honest to our role of serving the public we cannot deny, that a user manual of 3000 words, that is well written and uses graphics optimally is better than one of 10000 words, equally well written without proper graphics.

When I look at my appliancies at home, our tv, VCR, DVD-player (Panasonic), digital reciever, stereo, mp3-players, digital cameras (Canon) and the manuals I have on shelf for these, they all do an excellent job, are well written and use graphics wherever possible.
But most of the manuals I translate belong to the other group, too much text, badly organised, graphics only minimally.

Cheers
Heinrich


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seraalice  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 16:09
Member (2007)
English to Czech
+ ...
Entirely great and funny Dec 6, 2007

MariusV wrote:

"Very often I feel sorry for the future reader, but the duty of the translator is primarily to satisfy the paying customer." - golden words. But having in mind that those manuals are intended as info for the end user, I think that the translator must ballance and satisfy the customer, and make the client happy. How to feed the wolf and have the sheep alive? A suggestion to solve the dilemma - to let the wolf have the shepherd for dinner.

I would also add that I often feel sorry about the reader of the source text. Recently I have translated a very simple manual of a CD player. Well, it was so wordy - was there any sense to "textualize" all those instructions where 999 out of 1000 people do know how to use the CD player (i.e. how to make the CD play, how to pause, how to insert it, how to adjust the volume, etc.). Well, I'd still understand all those "disclaimers" and "precautions" where the make of the device wants to be ensured that a CD player will not be immersed into water, or they want to put a WARNING!!! that a microwave oven is not suitable for drying pet cats...But when almost 2 pages explain how to unpack the device, well... And I there were almost a page about changing tracks of the CD/MP3 with a text like "Single pressed, skip the playing track (file) to next track (file) for normal play/pause mode, to next program index track (file) for program play/pause mode, to next random track (file) for random play/pause mode.", well, I really got confused. Both trying to understand the text, and trying to translate it. Good that it was JUST a CD player - so simply took a glance into my own CD player and translated just in the "ordinary meaning" (and that "picture" I saw at my CD could simply be in the source text - just a pointer with some text "to skip track", "fast rewind", etc.).

But imagine situations when there is a really complex technical device - the more you read, the less you understand what that device is all about.

And about the future readers - bought a plasma TV with a translation of the manual into my native language. Well, it had so many functions and new things that half of it I had to "learn". Tried to read the native-speaker version, well, dropped it on the sofa as I COULD NOT understand anything (simply from the logical/linguistic side). Then opened the English version - the texts were same "complexity" like my sample about the CD above...Well, could understand just some sentences about how good this device is)) But how to use it - well... Had to ask my 8-year old son to help me up and we solved all those problems on primary setting of the device, etc. - WITHOUT THAT MANUAL. Well, it took about an hour experimenting with those dozens of buttons (and the device still works as it has many "protections against a dumb user"), but reading the manual would have taken 2 hours...Without the possibility to understant its contents.



My question - shall the "Bad concept" user manual writers simply have the manual made and translated as a simple formality? At least under our country laws, it is written that the product seller MUST provide a user manual in the state language. And they can have problems if you complain they did not provide it. BUT not a single word is written about the quality of the language, i.e. meant for the end reader to be able to understand - not just an official document for being able to show "here is the manual in the languages needed", so we can permits to import it...Well, linguistic level - who can judge about it? Only a formality is needed and here is the formal requirement fulfilled. What else do you need?



[Edited at 2007-12-04 02:07]


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 17:09
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
well, sometimes the clients simply do not need any feedback Dec 7, 2007

bohy wrote:

I wonder if any of the companies which ask us to translate their documents have ever realized that we read them thoroughly and MUST understand what is written. We can (and do) spot a lot of mistakes, errors, and yet nobody asks for our feedback... When we provide some, we never know if it is used...
Our feedback should be mandatory and paid for. If they had to pay for it, our customers would probably consider making value out of their investment.


From my practice, I can tell that in many cases, there is a "chain" from translators who does a job till the end client. Even if a translator spots a real mistake (like technical parameters or some fatal mistakes like "turn on" instead of "turn off" for some high-voltage equipment) it takes quite a time to get explanations "from that end". In many cases, the answer is simple - "do the best you can and translate how you think the things should be". One more thing - some clients will really say "thanks a lot" for spotting something illogical or incorrect, but some can understand it as criticism to the source text. A lot of delicacy shall be there. What I find best - you make a translation "as is", collect all those places into a "followup disclaimer list" and attach it to the client - and then it is the client who decides what they want to do. Otherwise, you might end spending a lot of time on those "clarifications" (well, some sources are really poor), you have several jobs per week like that, then the clients decide that they really need to improve something, even changing whole sentences, and after a couple of days you have an email with a lot of thanks and "please translate the updated sentences". That can end in half a day spent on the faults of the source writer...One, two clients, three or four texts, a dozen of sentences - no problem. But, as a rule, it happens that all people who are alive come to you with urgent changes and updates, and it upsets down all schedules sometimes (we all plan our time). Well, for those translators who want to become technical writers ("rewriting" the meaning of the source into the target language instead of simple translation, let alone understanding the source from the logical point of view), there shall be special awards for working hard, saving many devices, and, who knows, saving several lifes of end users. But who will give those medals?

So, best to do the things like written in an instriction of peanut pack from one airline:

"Open the pack. Eat nuts" = "Get the source. Make a translation" (just as you think is the best + add a disclaimer to be ensured on a "just in case basis"). Tested - works with least time costs, and zero distraction.


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 17:09
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
There are nine million bicycles in Beijing Dec 7, 2007

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

But it requires that they would hire people who know how to draw to replace those guys that cannot write.


In the meantime, hiring people who can write would be a start...



That's a fact. It's a thing we can't deny. Like the fact that I will love you till I die.

/Katie Melua's song lyrics/

Yes, and there are billions of people in China, thousands of companies who make various items - whatever you want. Well, if we speak about some brands like Bang Olufsen, it is one thing - these people are crazy about quality making timeless items, it is the best pleasure ever to read their manuals. And you won't be that careless to misuse such equipment and see smoke from your stack of cash.

But other people want to compete on price. Nine million CD players, or whatever. A big party - can be a great deal on price. Do laws require high quality translation? No. The laws JUST require a translation. That is it. Formality done. Who cares? "Ace" technical writers? What for? Here is your requipment, User Manual, and you can love it till you die.

P.S. Nothing personal or negative against China or Chinese people. Just an "illustrative example".



[Edited at 2007-12-07 03:35]


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Milton Guo  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 23:09
English to Chinese
+ ...
Agreed Jan 28, 2008

Besides technical instructions, I often come across some texts of the source language which either have a number of mistakes or need polishing. Even worse, I cannot contact the clients directly for clarifying the texts, so have to do some guessing...

We translators are experts of both source and target languages, so we can provide valuable inputs during the process of translation; however, this ability of translators is often ignored and we do not get paid for the inputs even if accepted...Sigh......


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