In June 2004 users, developers and researchers of language technology gathered together at the second annual Translation Technology Event, TTE2004, on the Savonlinna Campus of the University of Joensuu. The event consisted of an exhibition and a seminar with lecturers from both the academic and business world. Translators, localisers and technical writers together with translation solution companies and translation researchers discussed the present and future of translation and translation technology.
The manuals, instructions and online help sites that anger and puzzles us when we read them by a DVD-player or a copy machine that refuses to co-operate are usually written by a technical writer. Nicholas Hill works for Bowne Global Solutions Finland as a Quality Assurance specialist in technical writing. He is also the chairman of Suomen tekniset dokumentoijat r.y., the voluntary organisation that represents technical writing professionals in Finland. The majority of its members work in the field of information technology and have a background in translation studies or philology. Technical writers can, however, also work in banks, hospitals or software companies and have training in engineering, for example.
Hill defines technical writing as the efficient collection and presentation of information. It means representing information that is appropriate for a certain audience: documents meant for laymen must be written in a different way than documents that only experts will read. The audience has to get enough information so that they can use all functions of the product in a safe manner. In addition, technical writers must be able to organise and present the material in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
Production, technical writing and translation form a chain, and every change affects the whole chain. A very big part of the work is communication. "Perhaps the most important thing in the job are people skills," says Hill. "One of the most surprising things about it is how much you work with other people. It is a great pleasure."
Diversity in job descriptions and working places makes technical writing an interesting field. A wide variety of people work together: production team, sales department, technical writers, translators. Also the products can vary from elevators and tower cranes to software products and wireless internet services.
Very often the instructions or the manual the technical writer creates, are translated. In spite of all the teamwork, technical writers do not get much feedback from translators and localisers. "I wish I would get more feedback. You do get it, but sometimes the chain is so long, that it might not make its way back to you. Often the translators may not be aware, that the technical writers would be interested in hearing that information."
Lennart Waje is the General Manager of the translation solution company Xplanation. Xplanation was founded 1991 as a purely research company, but has also started to provide translation services. "In order to sell technology, you have to weave it into the services, and sell it as words that get translated," Waje says. "Today Xplanation has two sides: it still has the development team, but it also gives full translation service solutions to the clients."
"The aim is to make the process easy for the client," states Waje. "We don't want clients to invest in technology per se. We want them to use technology through us."
The path from the original text to a translated text can include not only translation, but also terminology analysis, machine translation, proofreading, client reviewing and even formatting the translated text to look like the original. Each time a translation is finished, the firm has also updated the databases concerning the client.
"Translations will get cheaper, because finally the technology is good enough for saving money. The whole idea is to make translation more cost-efficient and at the same time get higher quality translations," Waje says. In order to make this happen, the price of translating has to come down, and the productivity of translators has to rise. This can be done by using translation technology, Waje believes.
Waje would like the universities to teach future translators more about how the work is done in real life. The translations have to be done in a very short time and the work is very often teamwork with the clients.
© Nettiradio Mikaeli / Minna Surakka KVL 2004