Best Practices

Translating Your Product Manuals from English into Spanish: A Guide for Tech Companies

Let’s start at the beginning. A product manual is a technical document that provides detailed information about how to use, operate, assemble, install, and maintain a product. We agree on that much. They can be quite straightforward, and sometimes a bit confusing. When translation comes in, confusion should fly out the window.
Romina C. Cinquemani
8 min
Table of Contents

Let’s start at the beginning. A product manual is a technical document that provides detailed information about how to use, operate, assemble, install, and maintain a product. We agree on that much. They can be quite straightforward, and sometimes a bit confusing. When translation comes in, confusion should fly out the window.

On occasion, these translations are assigned to engineers or technicians who do not master the target language. Huge mistake. Other times, they are assigned to translators with lack of knowledge on the subject matter. Even worse. There has to be a balance. The professional translator in charge should have a technical background, proven experience, and a hawk’s eye to capture small differences between word meanings.

From the Get Go

The first step involves reading the manual from cover to cover. Get familiar with the terms, and the product in question. Before you start translating, get acquainted with features, functions, and specifications.

Terminology Research and Creation: If the client does not have a previously approved term base, compile a set of technical glossaries and start your own bilingual term base. Ideally, it should include technical terms, acronyms, and product-specific terminology.

Your best shot is researching online in industry dictionaries, previous approved translations, and manufacturer's materials.

How to achieve coherence and tone: Request the client’s style guide to follow their indications in terms of formatting, punctuation, capitalization, numbering, and tone for consistency. Believe it or not, sometimes final clients grow a bit far from the usual grammar rules, and establish their own exceptions. Your job is to apply their criteria, not argue. Perhaps make polite suggestions before publishing. You need to make sure that your Spanish translation matches the tone of the target audience and is easy to read. It should always reflect the brand’s voice.

Cultural and Regional Adaptation: As with any technical document, you will need to adapt measurements, currencies, figures, and cultural references to align with different Spanish-speaking regions.

Clear and to the Point: In technical texts, sentences should be concise and simple. They need to convey an easily understandable meaning. Use clear and straightforward language to explain complex concepts. Be technically accurate.

To ensure clarity, it is always useful to write short sentences. Then break down lengthy sentences and use bullet points or numbered lists for instructions, and procedures’ steps.

Practical Aids for your Task

CAT Tools, friends of the technical field: any trustworthy translation software will be your greatest ally in terms of consistency. Use them to your best knowledge.

Compliance with Legal and Safety Regulations: You should check that all the included safety instructions, disclaimers, warnings, and regulatory information comply with Spanish standards. Do not hesitate to seek legal assistance, in case of doubt.

Visual Aids: Always remember to translate the text that goes with diagrams, charts, and images maintaining consistency with the body of the document. Make sure that all translated labels, reference, and captions are legible and aligned with the matching visual resource.

Proofreading and Editing: As with any other type of translation, apply several rounds of proofreading and editing to detect and eliminate spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and any inconsistencies. Use the spell-check feature and hire a native Spanish-speaking proofreader for quality assurance procedures.

Final User Testing and Feedback: It is always a good idea to test the translated manual with Spanish-speaking users. This will provide an insight on real comprehension and usability. You could capitalize this review and then detect areas for improvement.

Formatting and Layout: Maintain the original formatting, layout, and design elements of the English manual in the Spanish version. Each character and symbol is there for a reason.

Make sure that headings, footnotes, fonts, colors, and page numbering are consistent and visually appealing. You do not want a figuratively discolored Spanish version of the document.

Keeping it Relevant

Version Control: In general, product manuals are issued periodically with updates on the product itself. Therefore, you need to apply version control to add relevant changes in future translations updates.

Technical documents, including product manuals, are a key element in the greater scheme of procedures within a company. Written material is the backbone of day to day operation, and consequently they should be completely free of errors. That is your duty, when it comes to the Spanish version. Godspeed.

Romina C. Cinquemani
Spanish translator, writer, language lover, and constant life apprentice.
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