Simplified Technical English & Machine Translation

There are many reasons why people want to push a message to an audience wider than the one it was originally created for. But when those audiences present language boundaries, translation can certainly present a challenge – context, metaphors, idioms, cultural references.

Wouldn’t it great if there was a way to avoid such matters and make the whole translation process easier?

What is Simplified Technical English?

Simplified Technical English (which can sound like a contradiction of terms in itself), or STE for short, was originally developed in the early 80s for aerospace industry maintenance manuals; an industry which has its fair share of specialist terminology.

Simplified Technical English offers a set of rules and a controlled vocabulary which improves the clarity of technical writing and enables us to understand the text without any ambiguity.

This method has since been adopted across multiple industries and strongly lends itself to the world of translation; the reduced chance of risk and ambiguity make STE the perfect rule set for Machine Translation.

Using Simplified Technical English to get the most from Machine Translation

The philosophy of Simplified Technical English aligns beautifully with the fundamentals of Machine Translation (MT).

Reducing the amount of variation in the text will help to build a strong Translation Memory as this collects repeated strings of text, and uses the previous translation, reducing the amount of human post-editing required, which in turn reduces the cost of your translation project. Repetition is certainly acceptable to convey meaning, but it won’t make for interesting read, which is why it is recommended that Machine Translation is used for certain content, such as technical translations, procedural documentation and user manuals.

Writing rules for Simplified Technical English

Among the basic guidelines for Simplified Technical English are:

One word – one meaning

One of the fundamental rules of STE is “one word – one meaning”. For example: the usage of “start”, “begin” and “commence”.

Whilst these terms can be used to convey the same meaning in English, it can create ambiguity in other languages.

Good examples:
Increase the pressure until the flow starts again
The warning starts and the indicators flash

Bad examples:
Increase the pressure until the flow begins again
Warning commences and indicators flash

Different people write in different styles, even if the theme/topic is exactly the same. If you want to adopt a more consistent, MT friendly style of writing in order to streamline the translation process, consider creating a style guide for your content writers, which will act as a guideline for applying Simplified Technical English, and will also stand you in good stead should you decide to adopt DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture). A consistent approach to STE will ultimately result in you getting the most value out of your MT engine and a significantly reduced number of errors.


Sean joins Capita TI from our acquisition of ITR. He has over 25 years' experience in the translation industry and has worked in a variety of roles. He's now our Pre-sales Language Solutions Consultant.

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