Don Jacobson Planning & Development
English/Hebrew Translation Services for the Planning and Development Professions


Professional Translation in the Design and Development Professions

Guide to purchasing translation services

Changes in the Israeli construction industry

The construction industry in Israel is currently undergoing those same globalization processes being experienced by other industries as participants from foreign countries specializing in finance, design and construction become increasingly involved in all aspects of development. This phenomenon is also a two-way street – Israeli entrepreneurs, contracting companies and designers are also increasing their involvement in overseas markets.

Such foreign participation in the construction industry in Israel has been accompanied by the development of various types of joint ventures and innovative and unique forms of contracting such as BOT and PFI. This activity is particularly evident in infrastructure and transportation projects such as tunneling and railway electrification and in other prestigious ventures such as gas and oil exploration in which Israeli experience or know-how is lacking or in which the participation of foreign players is either desirable or necessary.  

The professional language used in most of these projects is English. Many project documents (such as specifications, bills of quantity, tenders and contracts) written originally in Hebrew are translated into English in order to facilitate the participation of non-Israeli players and to enable efficient communication between them and their Israeli partners, even when the foreign partners themselves do not originate from English-speaking countries.

The importance of professional translation services to the construction industry

The growth in the quantity and scope of projects in which language has become an important component has been accompanied by a corresponding growth in the importance of professional translation services that respond to the construction industry's unique needs. This field has several special characteristics that amplify the importance of reliable professional translation, among them:
  • Complex and extensive design and construction processes;
  • The involvement of a large number of professions in each project and the need to coordinate among them;
  • The depth and detailing required to elaborate design concepts and to manage their execution;
  • Changes in technology and the introduction of new processes and products into the market;
  • Long-term changes in professional terminology and usage.
Translation services in this industry must therefore be based on know-how, experience and writing skills. And in this field – to a vastly greater extent than in literary or academic fields – reliability and accuracy are essential elements, especially when considering the heavy investments being made by international firms and governmental authorities at all stages of the development process.

Precision is a key factor in the manner of presentation as well – since considerations of image also play a part. Errors such as incorrect terminology, faulty descriptions of processes or products and even misspellings can both embarrass and confuse readers and relay a lack of professionalism. It is clear that a translator in fields such as electronics, medicine or literature – proficient as he or she may be – cannot be expected to provide the level of translation required in the construction field on the basis of language skills only.

The translation process

Project managers must also consider the time required to execute translation and the need to oversee the translation process and its products. Familiarity with translation processes and practices is important since an investment of time and effort is required in order to include them in the total project design and construction process.

It can be safely assumed that no translator is capable of being familiar with every detail of every profession employed in a complex project to its full depth and breadth. There will often be new or unfamiliar terms in a project. Specifications and bills of quantity will almost always contain reference to both locally- and foreign-made processes and products. Many of these will be Internet-searchable and the translator should be capable of identifying such items in their corresponding mirror language sites. However, when they are not available in the target language (as frequently occurs), a special problem is created in specifying products for which the manufacturer or vendor itself does not have a ready translation. This problem is particularly acute when translating processes and products into Hebrew since many times they have not yet entered the local market and there is no local experience with them and no terminology has been developed for them.

Moreover, the narrative quality of source material may vary widely – such that the intentions of the author or designer may be unclear. As a result, the translation of even highly technical material frequently involves interpretive skills and interaction with the author or designer until it is fully understood and elaborated. In this matter, it must be emphasized that the products of the design will always remain the full professional responsibility of the designer – even when the translated product itself is not in his or her mother tongue. Working with reliable and experienced translators is thus essential.

Complex projects add another element that must be considered – and that is the large number of components that must be integrated into project documents. As in any process of design superposition, maximum uniformity of all project components should be the goal – in terminology, in content and, insofar as possible, in style – something that requires an investment of time and effort.

A word about the translation of construction drawings is also in order here. The translation of construction drawings can be a time-consuming – and thus expensive – process. As with any other project documentation, it should be prepared professionally and in close coordination with other project documents. Due to cost and time constraints, this work is frequently performed by in-house design staff, which may not have the requisite language skills. Planning ahead by placing as much textual data as possible on a single CAD layer will often make the task of translation easier later on, regardless of who will eventually execute the translation.

A collaborative process should thus be anticipated between the client and translator, in particular when producing documents with far-reaching financial and legal implications such as technical specifications and contracts. This is difficult to do under last-minute pressures and may impair their accuracy and reliability.   

As can be deduced from the above description, and since translation is normally performed at the end of the design process, the translation process should be incorporated early into the project's critical path during planning and budgeting.  Don't wait till the last minute!

The cost of translation

Project managers must thus prepare in advance for handling translation needs. The key elements that characterize any design and construction project – professionalism, time and money – are crucial here as well.  And as in any other component of a development project, the cost of translation is also subject to market forces. Beyond competitive pricing, however, several relevant points should be remembered.

First, and although it may seem trivial, the material sent to the translator should be in its final version insofar as possible. Otherwise, as in the design and construction process itself, the cost of translation work is likely to increase with changes. 

It is also important to judge proposals for translation work based on the professional background of the translator assigned to the work – the use of a translator with a suitable professional background who has worked on similar projects in the past provides you, the client, with a clear advantage in the time needed to review the translation work, particularly under the time constraints that normally characterize the design and construction process.

As noted above, the nature of the design and construction process is such that final document translation usually takes place at critical points along the project path, and generally under severe time constraints. Planning ahead and allocating sufficient time for translation will go far toward preserving the sanity of both you and your translator and will save you money - translators will often charge a premium for urgent projects.

Finally, it should also be noted that while translation costs may be significant depending on project size and complexity, they need to be considered in the context of the entire cost of the project together with other factors. These factors include the time required to assure the quality of the translation work, the savings in time and effort associated with efficient communication among project stakeholders using clearly written and accurately translated documentation, the cost in potential liability associated with the issuance of defective specifications and bills of quantity and intangible costs associated with poor professional presentation and bruised public relations.

In summary:

Translation in the design and construction field is an evolving profession. Recognition of its importance and of the expertise required for its superior performance is increasing and with it the likelihood that project managers will incorporate it as an inseparable part of the entire design and construction process.

Good professional translation services enable savings in time and money and ensure a large measure of protection against the risks that are inherent in all construction projects.
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Don Jacobson

Setting the standard

for translation services in the
design and construction industry
Don Jacobson Planning & Development
Har Halutz PO Box 36 20121 Israel
Voice: 972-4-9802075 Fax: 972-3-7255995 Mobile 972-52-2693758
Member: Israel Translators Association
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