When I was 15 years old and learning to drive, I was given access to a pick-up truck with manual transmission. But my attempts at shifting gear were so disastrous that I was soon relegated to sharing my mother’s automatic minivan.

About a year later, I overheard a conversation about the inner workings of a clutch mechanism. I decided to look up “manual transmission” in the index cards of my local library, and, after reading a short article on the subject, I was immediately able to drive a manual car. Knowing how a manual transmission worked allowed me to free myself from the tyranny of having to drive around in a soccer-mom van. Knowledge was power.

Now what does this have to do with clients of translation agencies?

You’d be surprised, but the different types of documents you deal with every day each have their own language, with its own elements, rules, functions and mechanics. Often linguists, programmers and graphic designers have to look at a document as a tinker toy or a mechanical puzzle.

For example, a document such as a flyer or a Powerpoint presentation is fraught with elements of design, such as white space, typefaces, font weights, spacing, kerning, layout, color, images and graphics. Yes, even the spaces in these documents have meaning and function. How to create and manipulate these elements may be best left to a graphic designer, but knowing how they make a document more effective can help anyone make the best use of it.

Legal documents are another good example of language used mechanically. They are basically a collection of formulas and postulates, each serving a specific purpose, much like methods and functions in a computer programming language. Key pieces of information, names, numbers, places, can be thought of as the parameters that are processed in a computer application.

From the point of view of the client looking to hire a translation service, looking at a document this way can mean a real difference. They will be able to ask for precisely what they need, and they will know exactly what to expect in return. Whether they be medical patients, a legal firm, artists, or businessmen, they will know how to get tailor-made solutions.

From the point of view of a translation agency, looking at documents this way means acquiring a great variety of knowledge and resources in order to become flexible and efficient. Our area of expertise is how to handle the linguistics and the design of documents in every context imaginable. We have to be ready for anything.

Language, just like mechanics, has simple building blocks that most of us can recognize, but countless different applications. Being able to break these problems down and understand how they work is the key to our success.