Chemical translation services are used by businesses in the chemical industry when they want to succeed in global markets.

The greatest demand when it comes to most chemical translations is for an incredibly high level of technical accuracy. After all, documents from the industry can refer to highly complex chemical formulae. They might also have huge financial resources resting on their success in attracting new clients.

A skilled chemical translator may find themselves translating everything from product specifications and chemical engineering manuals to press releases and marketing materials to patents and legal contracts.

As a professional in the chemical industry, you will need your chosen linguist to ensure your translated documents are accurate, that they comply with legal requirements and that they are clear and precise, as well as suitable for task.

Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right chemical translation service for your specific project:

Why is professional chemical translation important?

There are several reasons why chemical translation needs to be handled by experts in the fields of both linguistics and chemicals:

1) The risks and dangers of mistranslation

Everyone loves a good “bad translation” story. Remember the one about Pepsi “bringing your ancestors back from the dead”?

But in the chemical industry, mistranslation is a serious danger. Any inaccuracies in recording precisely what is present in any given location can lead to a real risk of life and limb for the people who are going to handle, transport and use any chemicals contained there.

One of the worst examples of this was the 2015 Tianjin Port Disaster. Badly interpreted instructions for chemical storage and handling combined with mistakes in technical documents to cause an explosion which killed 173 people, as well as causing $1.1 billion of damage.

On a smaller scale, things like hazard signs and warning labels need to clearly display when chemicals are flammable or have other properties which material handlers need to be aware of. There is no room for confusion or imprecision.

2) Differences in terminology

Chemical terminology can differ between languages and regions. This means that direct translation of certain terms is not always to be relied upon. In some cases, the results can be disastrous.

At the high end of the spectrum, the results of bad translation of chemical terminology and instructions relating to their use and transport can be dangerous for handlers or users. But even if resulting events or combinations of chemicals are innocuous, a poor translation can lead to:

  • An inability to reproduce experiment results
  • Wastage of time
  • Wastage of valuable materials

As well as technical terminology, there are also often considerations relating to the translated versions of product names and company or brand terminology.

3) Legal requirements

In almost every corner of the world, professionals in the chemical industry need to follow strict laws and regulations.
These rules are set up to limit the likelihood of terminology or safety problems like those outlined above. The rules themselves vary depending on region and jurisdiction.

For example, the European Union – specifically the European Chemicals Agency – has REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of CHemical substances) regulations. In order to be permitted to import or produce substances larger than a ton in weight, a company must:

  1. Cooperate – with other companies which make or import the same kind of compounds to make sure descriptions are consistent.
  2. Be accurate – the ECA can levy significant fines if descriptions are found to be inaccurate. There are also major liability concerns.
  3. Be truthful – any false information, even if it is provided by accident, can also lead to a company being prevented from trading with the EU.

China, the US, Canada and many other countries also put the onus on chemical manufacturers and importers to accurately label and describe what they are producing and shipping.

What are chemical translation services used for?

It’s not just product labels and warning signs that chemical translation services are used for. The chemical industry is a largely globalised one, meaning there is a need for multilingual documents in almost every corner of it:

1) Technical documentation

Technical documents often relate to materials handling, manufacture and transport, as well as the legal side of the industry. They include:

  • Patent research and filing
  • Legal, commercial and employment contracts
  • MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets)
  • EHS information
  • Product specifications
  • Chemical engineering manuals
  • Chemical manufacturing SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) manuals
  • Packaging information
  • Hazard assessments
  • Toxicology reports

2) Related documents and content

There is also a large amount of related material which professionals in the chemical industry need to translate. These include materials related to the advertising, sale and use of products, company reputation, communications and the like:

  • PR announcements and press releases
  • Marketing materials
  • Video content
  • Internal communications
  • E-learning and other training materials
  • Catalogues
  • Websites
  • Software

3) Verbal communication

In addition to written communications, in an increasingly globalised industry, there is large-scale need to communicate with professionals who speak different languages verbally.

Critically, there’s a need to be able to do so while maintaining precise understanding when referencing chemical compositions and the like.

Whether it’s communicating within your own multinational team, keeping your global corporate vision whole or dealing with employees, stakeholders and partners in countries around the world, using specialist interpreters with experience or qualifications in the chemical industry is an absolute must.

These days, the existence of remote interpreting services makes organising language support more cost-effective and convenient than it has ever been before.

How to select the best chemical translation services

Using a professional chemical translation service is really the only way to proceed with content such as this. The only alternative is if you have an in-house team which includes native-speakers of your target language who are experts in the field as well as being qualified in translation, editing and proofreading of multilingual documents.

Relying on existing employees who happen to speak a language simply isn’t enough. Much like chemical engineering, translation isn’t a job where you will get good results if you don’t use an expert.

When you’re selecting the right chemical translator for the job, it’s a good idea to:

1) Use specialist chemical translators and interpreters

Always look for a translation agency which uses translators who have actual knowledge of the chemical industry. Preferably, the specific part of it – for instance agrochemicals, petrochemicals, plastics manufacturing or materials science – which you operate in.

For example, Asian Absolute always makes sure your project is placed in the hands of linguists who have a minimum of five years’ experience or Masters degree-equivalent qualifications in your chosen field. Many of the translators we use are current or former materials scientists or chemists themselves.

Having access to subject matter expertise is the only way to be sure that your final translation will be accurate.

2) Always choose native speakers

Only a linguist who is a native speaker of your target language and who is intimately familiar with the culture in the region you are targeting can properly judge how natural a translated text is and how clear its message will be.

For multilingual projects, such as an e-learning course for employee training or a website which is designed to accommodate speakers of multiple languages, this means you need native speakers for each language or dialect you are targeting.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that languages have dialects. Thus, aiming to produce a “Spanish” version of your content is rarely a precise enough goal. Is that a Mexican Spanish translation? Puerto Rican Spanish? The Spanish spoken in large parts of Spain?

3) Remember the challenges of localisation

Native speakers from your target region will help you understand things like cultural reference points, sensitivities and expectations.

These are things which can be easy to overlook or generalise about. But without which, any message can fall flat. Or worse, transmit a completely different or confusing message because the translation was based on a faulty understanding of how the target audience views the world – or even how they understand certain words.

It’s easy enough to imagine how much chaos or confusion this could cause even when we’re thinking about something simple like a safety sign. When we’re talking about complex chemical formulae or instructions, the potential for possibly dangerous misunderstandings to arise grows much larger.

4) See if your provider wants to discuss terminology with you

Before a project starts, an experienced translator will want to agree with you how certain terms and phrases will be translated.

This should lead to the joint development of glossaries of terms. These glossaries could contain:

  • Technical terminology, such as compound names
  • Branded or corporate terms
  • Agreed transcreations or transliterations of slogans, branding or marketing terms

The important thing is that a professional translation agency will almost certainly be proactive in asking you to work with them to determine agreed translations for important terms.

5) Investigate the tools your LSP will be using

Good Language Service Providers (LSPs) may use a variety of tools to assist them in the translation process:

i) Translation Memories

One of the key modern language technologies is the Translation Memory (TM). A TM is basically a database of agreed or already-translated terms which translation software will suggest to a linguist rather than forcing them to translate an identical phrase multiple times.

Tools like this speed up the translation process. They also often reduce translation costs because some LSPs offer reduced rates for words which have already been translated.

On top of TMs, they guarantee consistency when translating everything from the most complex technical terms to flowery marketing phrases in and across projects. Which is why Asian Absolute always uses them.

ii) The option of Machine Translation

Machine Translation (MT) isn’t suitable for every purpose. But recent advances in custom Machine Translation engines make specially trained automatic translation systems a possibility for projects which may include text with short life cycles and high volume, such as:

  • Internal communications
  • Company and product reviews

Machine Translation offers incredible savings in both time and money over a human translator. But each engine needs to be “trained” on the specific task and type of content it is going to be used to translate. Its output also needs to be post-edited by a human and the system refined until it can produce the required quality of output.

Asian Absolute is a specialist in Machine Translation engine training. So we know how much work goes into creating a trustworthy custom system. We also know the potential savings involved when they’re used for the right purpose.

6) Check your LSP’s accreditation

Another important step on the path to finding the right chemical translation agency is to check their accreditations. You might look for things like:

  • Accreditation from organisations like the UK’s Association of Translation Companies or the American Translators Association
  • Membership of industry bodies, such as Elia in Europe
  • International certification such as the ISO:9001 quality standard

7) See what Quality Assurance they offer

Finally, you will want to be sure of the quality assurance processes which your chosen LSP has in place.

Professional editing and proofreading of your translated content should be the minimum you’re looking for. On top of that, there are other things you might need for particularly important content. You might want to look for:

  1. Editing – a professional editor will see to it that your translated content makes the right impact. They will check for things like tone, voice, clarity, consistency and whether there are unnecessary words which might benefit from being removed.
  2. Proofreading – a proofreader checks that your translator and editor have done their jobs well. They will ensure your document is ready to be published. They check spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting as well as making other improvements which give writing which is already excellent a further quality boost.
  3. Back translation and reconciliation – because of the complexity and frequently high-value nature of projects within the chemical industry, it can be a good idea to investigate the possibility of requesting back translation and reconciliation of your content. This essentially involves translating the content back into its original language to ensure messaging is preserved.

Translation and the future of the chemical industry

The chemical industry is changing. New companies from emerging markets have started to compete with the established multinationals. The political and societal pressure on green issues has also led many companies to change their strategies – and created a need from them to be able to effectively publicise the way they’ve chosen to do so to a global audience.

Staying competitive in a changing industry means adapting to new and emerging markets – such as the growing demand in the Asia-Pacific region – and knowing that you’re all set to do business there as successfully as you do in your existing markets.

That’s something which well-chosen chemical translation services will ensure you are perfectly prepared to do.

Do you have a chemical translation project on your hands?

Asian Absolute localises the technical documents, marcoms, patents and legal documents, websites, digital content and more for organisations in every part of the chemical industry.

Chat with us today. Get a free, no-obligation quote or find out more 24/7.