What are some common mistakes that med-tech firms make when dealing with translation and localization issues?
Mariam Nayiny, president of IDEM Translations: Several come to mind. Here they are in no particular order.
- Bypassing the translation agency. One common mistake is to delegate the translation work to an internal staff member or to a local distributor, thereby losing control over the quality process. If any issues—legal or medical—emerge later on in relation to the translated materials, the parent company will still be held liable.
- Too many review/QA steps in addition to the translation process. A good translation agency should have a quality process that is watertight, producing end translations that are error-free and immediately usable.
- Misunderstanding stylistic preferences for actual errors or poor quality. In-country reviewers may have certain particular stylistic or terminology preferences, which can always be accommodated. It's important to remember that these changes do not necessarily indicate a poor translation. In order to avoid multiple revisions after a translation is delivered, it is preferable to explain to the agency at the beginning of the project that there will be an in-country review step. If possible, stylistic preferences and the use of a desired terminology should be clarified up front.
- Poor writing. Arcane, convoluted prose, or the use of puns or catch phrases that will not translate easily into a foreign language should be avoided.
- Excessive rush expectations. Customers should not expect the translation process to take less time than it took to write the document.
- Sending the translation bureau a draft version to save time. Some clients assume that sending a draft version ahead of time will accelerate the translation process. Not so. Unless the revisions are minor and simple, it is in fact much more efficient and faster for translation teams to work on a finished source document. Otherwise, the translation process may have to be interrupted too early, and the translated text may need to be overhauled completely to accommodate a change or multiple changes affecting the documentation throughout.
In general, some up-front planning can make a great deal of difference in turnaround time, translation cost, and the number of revisions needed to get documentation ready. Writing and editing documentation in a single language is one thing, but creating documentation for translation into multiple languages presents new and unique challenges. When translated into another language, a document takes on a new life, as there are completely different cultures connected to it. Word choices, formatting, and technical specifications all take on nuances of meaning previously unconsidered when writing in a single language.
When sourcing a translation bureau to work with, what items should be at the top of the checklist?
Nayiny: The client should check for the presence of a quality process that is regularly audited, and that the company is serious about confidential processing of the documentation. Its responsiveness and ability to provide estimates without too many bureaucratic steps should also be high on the checklist. I would also recommend that the prospective customer verify that bureaus use translation memories and have the ability to keep track of document revisions and updates. That way, updates are charged only for the new text rather than for a full retranslation.
Confidentiality was mentioned, and that is, of course, a prime concern in the med-tech industry. How can customers ensure that a translation bureau is doing more than paying lip service to this principle? Are there specific systems one should look for?
Nayiny: The agency should have nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality agreements in place at all levels before starting the translation work. All the translators, contractors, and employees who work with the agency should be bound by the agency's standard NDA. In addition, specific NDAs between the translation agency and companies requesting translations can be signed. Most med-tech companies already have a standard NDA that can be signed by all of their vendors, including translation agencies.
The instructions for use (IFU) that typically accompany products contain technically precise vocabulary and information that is critical for a patient's well-being. How can a medical device manufacturer ensure that he or she is getting top-quality translations?
Nayiny: A good agency typically works exclusively with translators who not only are native speakers of the language they translate into, but who also have a degree and/or a long‑standing professional specialization in the area involved. They are medical professionals, researchers, technical writers, and so forth. From the outset, the translators will be at ease with the content of the IFU. In the case of IDEM, we ensure 100% accuracy and correctness by having each translation reviewed and edited by a second, equally competent translator. Our project managers also will do a final check-through of the translation before delivering it to the client, so that the final version fully and correctly reflects the technical content of the original. In fact, many times, our translators have been able to surprise the client by asking questions or offering to clarify the original text when they happen to notice a typo or an item that needs clarification. Our clients tend to be very grateful for those catches!
Beyond technical accuracy, style may be a prime consideration in a translation. For example, a company may have a marketing brochure that is designed to be read by young patients, and it may be quite particular about keeping the style accessible to a specific age group and level of education. Is it possible to request that the style and feel of a text be adequately reflected in a translation?
Nayiny: Of course. Here again, the skills required from the translators at the time of their recruitment by the agency are the key factor. Native speakers of the language with a specialization in the medical field will be familiar with the text's technical aspects and its linguistic challenges. If you already know that your target audience is going to be within a particular age bracket, or of a particular level of education, or if there is some other particular feature of your audience that needs to be addressed in the translation, be sure to communicate this to the agency that will be handling your project. If your organization has a company style guide or other document that states basic style decisions, pass it on to the translation team for reference.
How expensive are translations in general? How can companies get a ballpark estimate on the costs involved?
Nayiny: The best way to obtain a fast price estimate is to show (or send) the document to the translation agency along with your request. Translation rates will vary according to such factors as the rarity of the language, urgency of the translation, degree of technicality, and whether or not a layout step is involved. Translations are typically charged on a per-word basis, so in order to obtain an estimate it is useful to have an idea of the word count involved. Otherwise, the density of words per page varies too widely and it is impossible for the translator or the agency to take a guess without seeing the actual document that needs to be translated.
What about documentation that requires revisions from time to time? Does the entire text need to be translated again to include the revisions?
Nayiny: Not at all. Software is available that allows translators to re-use text that has been translated in the past. IDEM uses Trados, which enables us to build translation memories: previously translated text can be automatically re-inserted into a new version, leaving only the new or changed portions to translate.
IDEM Translations Inc., located in Palo Alto , CA , provides a full range of translation and localization services to the medical device and pharmaceutical industries. The firm's translation and quality processes are certified to ISO 9001:2000. For more information, visit the company's listing in the online Consultant's Directory.