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Buying a Quality Translation?

When i first starting working within the translation industry and was tasked with prospecting for new customers, one of my common introductions would often be… ‘we offer high quality translations’. Often this is met with slightly blank expressions – and rightly so as not many translation service providers would lay spanish to english 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 customers. The reason I was so keen to use this word while approaching new customers was because of the effect I had see it had during my training, where I had seen a prospect switch to your 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 power to supply 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 just don’t have the skills or capabilities internal for a specific language. Unlike most business services the grade 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 be given a quality translation and how do you go about measuring this? This article talks about the issue of quality within the translation industry and examines the ways in which purchasers can evaluate the grade of the translations they receive.

For many years, the language service industry has theorised on what to define a quality translation. Most commonly used to explain what a quality translation should be is that it meets and is much greater than the customer’s requirement of quality. This is a good standard to adhere to, however, the issue comes in determining what will meet or exceed the customer’s requirement of quality. Company X’s understanding of (or requirements for) quality is extremely completely 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 requirement of quality is. A useful exercise prior to confirming the job is to create a past record 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 job. It can also be useful to include examples of bad quality translations to help make your needs more express. These samples can act as a benchmark to compare completed translations. If you are at a stage what your location is determining which language service provider you will be using, it can also be very useful to commission a sample or test little bit of the text to determine the expected substandard quality. Ultimately, communicating your needs and ensuring that they are understood will significantly improve the probability of receiving a quality translation.

Overall, when you analyse the grade 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 give guidance for translation companies when it comes to processing work. The hottest of these is BS EN 15038. However, wish 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 little bit 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 in concert with a realtor 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 sense at ease 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 grade of a translation boils down to the perception of the buyer and (as stated previously above) whether the translation meets and is much greater than their requirement. 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 partnership between the translation service provider and the client that holds the key. Both sides must be sure 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 mark 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 that is 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 website. 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 shiny 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 pretty lengthy and time is bound, the work can be split between multiple translators. This brings in issues of consistency of verbiage, which may be jeopardised by removing the work. A potential work around is to apply multiple translators with a single proof-reader, this way ensuring the translated text uses a consistent style.

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