When I first starting working within the translation industry and was tasked with prospecting for new clients, one of my common introductions would often be… ‘we offer high quality translations’. Often this was met with slightly blank expressions – and rightly so as not many translation service providers would lay claim to offering poor quality translations. I soon realised that this approach, and specifically the use of the word ‘quality’, was not best suited to prospecting for new clients. The reason I was so keen to use this word while approaching new clients was because of the effect I had see it had during my training, where I had seen a prospect switch to our company because of the “poor quality” translations they had received elsewhere. In my mind the main reason clients would choose a specific provider was down to quality. While I still believe this to be the case in many situations, other factors such as price, reputation, and ability to provide the correct service can be equally important.
Quality, however, is still a very important factor when choosing your translation provider. The problem comes when trying to evaluate quality. Often, one of the difficulties that face purchasers of translation services is the main reason they are using the services of a supplier in the first place and that is that they do not have the skills or capabilities in house for a specific language. Unlike most business services the quality of the work, therefore, cannot be validated the moment the work is delivered. This validation usually comes once the work is published. This can be a costly exercise in testing, especially if the results are that the work is of a poor standard or, worse still, damages the reputation of the company that has published the work.
So how can you ensure that when you commission a translation service provider you’ll receive a quality translation and how do you go about measuring this? This article looks at the issue of quality within the translation industry and examines the ways in which purchasers can evaluate the quality of the translations they receive.
For many years, the language service industry has theorised on how to define a quality translation. Most commonly used to explain what a quality translation should be is that it meets and exceeds the customer’s expectation of quality. This is a good standard to adhere to, however, the difficulty comes in determining what will meet or exceed the customer’s expectation of quality. Company X’s understanding of (or requirements for) quality may be very different from company Y’s. It is vital when commissioning translation that all parties involved in the process (the buyer, supplier, the translator, etc.) are fully aware of what the expectation of quality is. A useful exercise prior to confirming the assignment is to create a portfolio of examples and samples of good translations that can be supplied to the language service provider. This can be used as a semi-style guide for the translator undertaking the assignment. It can also be useful to include examples of bad quality translations to help make your requirements more explicit. These samples can act as a benchmark to compare completed translations. If you are at a stage where you are determining which language service provider you will be using, it can also be very useful to commission a sample or test piece of the text to determine the expected level of quality. Ultimately, communicating your requirements and ensuring that they are understood will significantly enhance the probability of receiving a quality translation.
Overall, when you analyse the quality of translation work you are assessing 3 specific elements that make up the translation process; the agency, the translator and the actual translation itself. Firstly, you need to look at the process the language service provider uses in terms of managing the work. There are a number of European and worldwide standards that provide guidance for translation companies when it comes to processing work. The most widely used of these is BS EN 15038. However, just because a company has achieved a certain standard or follows specific guidelines, there is no guarantee that they will provide a quality translation. As mentioned above, a useful exercise if to ask the supplier to provide a test piece of their work. Alternatively, ask to see a sample of work they feel illustrates their quality. Additionally, testimonials or references should also be sought from satisfied customers.
Equally important as the agency is who they commission to undertake the actual translation. It is important to know how qualified the translator is to perform the task. This will not only be linguistic qualifications, but also relevant experience and additional qualifications in their specific area of expertise. It would also be wise to confirm that the translator is a mother tongue linguist and their country of residence. With translations that are required for publication it is also a good idea to have a second mother tongue linguist check the work for errors and omissions, syntax and style. If the client works with an agent in the country where the translation will be used it is also a good idea to have the agent read through the work. When all is said and done, the client and their agent will always know more about their business than the translator and the agent may like to make some suggestions, especially if they will be using the translation as a marketing tool as it is important that they feel comfortable with it. Any self-respecting translation company should be more than willing to work with the agent to achieve the desired result and incorporate any suggestions into the translation.
The crux of the quality issue is determined by the actual translation itself. A language service provider may follow the most appropriate procedures, use the very best translators and still be unable to provide a translation of the quality required by the client. The procedures mentioned above will help, but they don’t guarantee quality. Ultimately, the quality of a translation boils down to the perception of the buyer and (as already mentioned above) whether the translation meets and exceeds their expectation. So then it is back to the supplier and making sure they understand the expectations and follow the appropriate steps to ensure this is achieved. In my experience I believe that it is the relationship between the translation service provider and the client that holds the key. Both sides must ensure that neither party make assumptions about the requirements of the work, but have a clear understanding of what is needed. Translation providers will need to know who the target audience for the translation will be and from the outset it is useful to provide information on the post-translation use of the work. For example, is it an inter-company memo which will be distributed to 1,000 internal customers or an adverting text potentially going out to 100,000 external customers? It is also useful to make clear what the proposed medium for the translation is. Translators who translate marketing copy for a company brochure may wish take a different style when translating a marketing text for a website or blog site. Translation suppliers will sometimes refer to text as either ‘for information’ or ‘for publication’. Text for information is text that, although accurate, may not be as polished as perhaps the ‘for publication’ text would be and so it is critical to determine what type of translation service you require. Another requirement to consider is the timing of the translation – how long the translator has to translate the text. Typically, a single translator can translate between 1,500 and 2,000 words per day. However, if the text is fairly lengthy and time is limited, the work can be split between multiple translators. This brings in issues of consistency of terminology, which may be jeopardised by splitting the work. A potential work around is to use multiple translators with a single proof-reader, this way ensuring the translated text uses a consistent style.
As mentioned in the introduction of this article, quality is difficult to determine in translation. Translation, like music CDs and cars, is not a commodity and therefore open to interpretation. However the key to helping ensure that both translation suppliers and buyers provide and receive a quality translation is to have clear and open information as to what the requirements are of a quality translation.