How many languages should you use in your product manuals?

Product manual overview

Manuals are often used to maintain consistency by giving clear instructions on ways to perform the task. Whether it be building a wardrobe in your house, following a company user guide, or reading detailed technical instructions, the manual should be easy to read and comprehend. A well-written manual always increases the quality of the product or service.

In a global economy, the localisation of manuals and user guides has become increasingly important. And this isn’t just doing a word for word translation, it is about understanding the requirements for each language, territory, and culture. It’s also about knowing the rules. 

You may not be aware, but there are international requirements for language choices in manuals.  

International standardisation for product manuals

This is especially when it comes to safety. Thus, 163 countries have organised themselves in the ISO, the International Organisation for Standardisation. Within the ISO, you can find the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The IEC has set up a standard on how to create manuals and which language you should include. The standard, named, IEC 82079-1 has a goal to deliver manuals that lead to the effective and safe use of the product. Making it necessary to not only translate manuals into the local language of the users but to ensure complete comprehension of the translated text.

Using the IEC 82079-1 standard, the European Union has built its own regulation when it comes to translating manuals. In the EU it is mandatory to set up manuals in the local languages of the users.

 If there is more than one official language in an EU country, all these languages need to be in the manual. In Belgium as an example, a manual should have Dutch, German and French translations.

The EU directives are very broad in scope but also binding in nature, and therefore can also provide a good foundation for the rest of the world. As an example, even though English and French are popular in many African countries, you shouldn’t assume that this will be sufficient for that country. However, many African countries are not a member of the ISO and, consequently, do not subscribe to the IEC 82079-1 standard. Therefore, local knowledge is so important in a localisation strategy.

You also must consider the alphabet you are using and therefore the fonts. Even though the Latin alphabet is globally the most common alphabet used, it is of course not the only one. The Cyrillic alphabet is used in countries like Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, etc. The Arabic alphabet is used around the world, the Republic of Korea writes in Hangul and China uses Hanzi. Japan uses three different writing systems called Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Not all of these different alphabets are available in all fonts, so this needs to be a consideration for both printed and online manuals.

This alphabet issue has led countries like China, Japan, Russia, and places where they use Arabic to adopt their own mandatory regulations in relation to the translation of manuals and user guides.

As you can see, localising a manual or user guide isn’t as straightforward as it might seem on the surface. But don’t worry, this is why we are here.


Language services for product manuals done right

Global Lingo has the experience and know-how to make the process as simple as possible for any business that needs to localise its materials. Our dedicated project managers and linguists take away your need to understand local and international regulations. We streamline the whole process for you and deliver perfect documents on time and on budget.

In answer to the question posed at the start of this article, “How many languages should you use in your product manuals?” The answer is simple…ask an expert. Ask us.

Looking for translation services?

Our global translation services help companies distribute content to other audiences across the world. Whether this is information in documents, web content, product or marketing campaigns, or audio-visual media, our team of experienced, industry-qualified translators offers an exceptional level of service.

Did you know?

Global Lingo has one of the largest pool of linguists in the industry. Everyone is a native speaker in the language they are translating into, and we can translate into and from 150+ languages. So, whatever your project, whatever the language, Global Lingo can help.

Speak to a consultant

If you’re not sure what service you need or you’d like to discuss the kinds of Translation you require then we can get one of our team to give you a call. Simply complete the form below and we will get back to you.