Whether we’re talking trusty daily run-arounds, big rigs moving tons of goods or hundreds of people, or flashy objects of desire, road vehicles are complex products whose production, sale and maintenance involves hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The ever-changing needs of globally diverse supply chains and markets require fast and accurate translations for the automotive sector. As tempting as the time savings of fully-automated translation processes might be, documents covering these great marvels of human engineering still definitely need the human touch to perfectly convey messages across languages and cultures.

At Albion Languages, automotive translations are the key focus of Senior Linguist and Technical Terminology Expert Máté Varga. He’s here to share his valuable insights in our Q&A round on this topic.

Could you just tell us a bit more about your background with Albion Languages and in technical translation in general?

Most people I discuss my career and professional interests with are actually surprised by the fact that, apart from a degree in Technical Translation, I have no formal education in engineering. However, this is more evidence of the arithmetic skills of the teenage me than my actual interests. I have had a fascination with all things automotive and machinery my whole life and have learned an awful lot about it through informal channels and done quite a few DIY repair projects ever since. I soon discovered that up-to-date technical information was much more widely available in German and English than in my native Hungarian, making my obsession with these languages a no-brainer. I joined Albion Languages as a linguist 8 years ago where I soon had the opportunity to immerse myself in the most diverse of tech topics, including automotive service manuals and e-learning materials for service personnel.

Some people in the field say service manuals are low-visibility stuff; after all, you hardly have to tell a mechanic how to replace, say, a hazard warning switch, do you?

The abundance of vintage service manuals online suggests you had to “tell them how to” replace it even 30 or 40 years ago when screw heads were plainly visible in car interiors and there was still the chance you would undo the wrong ones. With today’s vehicle interiors, conceived with NVH (Noise-Vibration-Harshness), perceived quality and passenger safety in mind, mechanics often have to unclip dozens of plastic trim panels, undo dozens of hidden screws and remove seemingly totally unrelated components to gain access to the part to be replaced, ensuring they do not damage (even scratch!) any surrounding interior elements in the process. These procedures vary heavily across makes and models (even across versions and trim levels of the same model) and yes, mechanics DO need these manuals and use them on a daily basis to perform repairs. In the switch replacement section of such manuals, the description of actually replacing the switch mostly amounts to two sentences, the “rest” of the content (the actual point) dealing with how to gain access to it without messing anything up. Replacing non-interior parts usually involves the same complexity and limited access.

Manufacturers publish this huge amount of material for a reason and the translated version has to offer the same levels of clarity and comprehensibility as the original. Mechanics do not have the time to figure out long-winded sentences, our manuals need to function smoothly as a handy aid in carrying out repairs. They are indispensable parts of a repair shop tool box just like a good multimeter or screwdriver set and it definitely takes skilled “craftsmen”, that is, specialised automotive translators to create them.

Sure, but why is specialisation that important? After all, most manufacturers have developed their own terminology and provide them as glossaries. All that is left for translators is just to translate sentences following the terminology wherever possible, right?

Well, the emphasis is on “wherever possible” here. Provided, firstly, that the client has a glossary (which they are not necessarily supposed to – their main focus being on making vehicles, after all), it is very important to recognise the limits of such materials. It indeed doesn’t take a professional automotive linguist to follow a glossary but knowing when to deviate from it is another matter. Imagine a glossary stating “engine” for the German “Motor” and a non-specialised translator putting “engine” for every instance of the term, even when the text is about electric motors for window adjusters or sunroofs. This may seem a silly example but, trust me, I have come across similar situations quite a few times as a reviser (i.e. a professional checking a translation after a translator).

Secondly, glossaries are not infallible and do not cover every single technical term that may be needed. Given today’s huge technology shift, translators often have to “invent” translations for certain terms themselves as there are simply no approved translations for them as yet. Just the other day, I had to come up with the Hungarian equivalents for four different DPF regeneration modes according to US standards as there are no universally accepted and established translations for them. And this example is still related to good old internal-combustion technology – imagine the challenges posed by e-mobility! In knowing these industry secrets, it is reassuring to see new terms being created by specialist linguists rather than through hasty Google searches by people unfamiliar with the topic in online dictionaries without any peer review. My experience with service manuals shows that manufacturers have put great effort and the utmost care into compiling them. Why would they then risk the quality of their translated versions falling short of the original? Professional language service providers such as Albion Languages can help them get their message through to all of their service personnel, no matter where they are based or what languages they speak.

Just think of all the damage one wrong word or misplaced comma can cause – it’s surely better to entrust the translation of your automotive manuals to real live professionals. Feel free to contact us at Albion Languages – we’d love to share our know-how.