QuickSilver Translate is at the forefront of Fire Safety translation and localisation; our President, Colin Whiteley, has had 30 years in international management positions in this industry. As Tyco International’s former Global Director of Marketing and Communications, Colin has unmatched, first-hand experience of the issues and challenges of producing and maintaining multilingual documentation.
The major expertise in fire and safety is found in the USA and Western Europe. These countries have led the world in technology development and implementation, with ever more sophisticated innovations intended for global application. When you couple this with the fact that the greatest growth is currently in emerging markets such as China, Latin America, and India, it is not surprising that the old solution of just assuming that all your customers are competent in English is no longer adequate.
This is set against an increasingly complicated regulatory background. The Chinese authorities are by no means the only ones who now require all relevant approval documentation to be translated and submitted in the local language. Gone are the days when VdS or LPCB approval was an instant passport to any country in the world.
Research has shown that 77% of consumers prefer to buy products with information in their own language. But perhaps even more importantly, 70% of those surveyed would not enter a transaction where the information is in their language, but poorly translated. It seems that quality technology is not enough. It is quality communication of that technology that determines buying decisions.
Moreover, the fire and safety industry is a special case. If, as a result of poor understanding of English, or of a bad translation, a fire and safety product or system fails to operate properly when required, it may be too late just to call in the technician.
Industry and sometimes company-specific terminology presents another challenge. And yet, fire and safety is also a notoriously difficult area for even quite experienced technical translators. The German for “detect” is “erkennen“, yet a fire detector is a “Melder“, which is literally not a detector at all, but an “annunciator“. Most languages have their own words for garden sprinklers, but fire sprinklers are mostly called “sprinkler” (“sprinkleur” in French), even in Russian and Hungarian, yet in Spain it’s “rociador” and in Poland “tryskacza“. Even English is full of pitfalls, since US and European usage have developed independently; anyone who has worked on a CEN working group knows the problems created by “system” and “installation“, “branch pipe” and “branchpipe“. And who would think that US “riser” sometimes translates as something as unlikely as “poste de contrôle” (control post) in French?
This complexity is the tip of the iceberg. Installation across the world is hindered and undermined by a dearth of appropriate local language documentation. It is a sad and potentially dangerous fact that fire and safety products sold in English-speaking countries, with much flag waving about quality control and technical competence, are exported to all corners of the world and installed or operated by local technicians with only poorly understood English language guidance to refer to. Communications and safety are enough of a challenge in English. How can we hope to achieve anything close to that level of safety in overseas markets without professional language management?