Ten questions to ensure you get a high-quality translation


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(First published on BizCommunity – 25 MAR 2014)

You've been tasked to have a text translated into a language you don't understand a word of. You need a translation that is clear, accurate and stylistically proper, and you want to make sure you avoid any possible pitfalls in the appointment process. So, you kickstart Google and...

The alluring realm of machine translation

In all likelihood, what will pop up first on Google will be various sites enticing you to opt for the quick, free solution of machine translation (MT). Hmmmm... Maybe you can save your boss some money here?

Warning bell! Accurate, high-quality MT suitable for business use may well be possible some time in the future, but that time has not arrived yet. You may be able to get the gist of a sentence from MT. But let's just say, if your life depends on understanding what that sentence says, you may not be long for this earth!

Machine translation versus translation vendors

The next option after MT is to click on a link to one of the literally myriad of translation agencies and freelance translators that litter the web. This must be better than trusting a machine, right? Another warning bell! As in any other services industry, this one too has its fair share of blundering blockheads.

There's one crucial difference between MT and translation vendors, though: When using a vendor, you can connect and engage with a real live person and manage the process. They can help you manage the process by, as a very first step, evaluating and asking for improvements to the input documentation, and then applying a methodology that uses balances and checks to ensure good end results.

As regards cost, vendors negotiate preferential rates with service providers (SPs), so you would not necessarily be paying much more for the privilege of having someone else take over your worries and ensuring the smooth running of your translation project. If you know what you're doing, it might be safe to appoint a freelance translator. If not, cover your backside and go for a vendor.

Ten questions to ask to make sure you appoint the right translation vendor

At this point, you are the sole determinant of the quality of the end product. The responsibility rests on you to select a vendor that is capable of delivering a clear, accurate translation that complies with style requirements in the target language.

Here's a checklist with questions you can send potential candidates to help you choose wisely:

1. How do you screen and maintain your SPs as regards qualifications, memberships, availability, reliability, experience and expertise?

2. How do you train and otherwise support your SPs?

3. How do you match SPs to a specific type of translation to ensure the correct level of expertise?

4. How will you ensure that you meet my deadline?

5. What is your procedure for handling large projects, in particular as regards consistency across multiple SPs' work?

6. How does your review process work? Does it add value through constructive criticism, or is it based on 'catching out' translators through, for instance, a back-translation procedure?

7. What problem-solving procedure do you have in place?

8. What back-up procedure do you follow for translated documents until they are delivered to the client?

9. Is all your company documentation up to date, e.g. company registration documents; tax clearance; bank confirmation letter; and service-level agreements (SLAs) with all SPs?

10. How does your fee relate to the value you offer in terms of human hours invested and quality assurance procedures applied?

The answers you get to these questions are bound to vary quite a bit, but should give you a good idea of whether the proposed vendor does indeed consider all of these crucial aspects and offers a project methodology that is capable of delivering quality products.

How much should you pay?

You'll soon find out that translations do not come cheap. And if they do, regard that as the last and final warning bell. Expert translators have studied long and hard, most often to post-graduate level. They would have invested a good number of years in perfecting their trade, and they should be prepared to spend the amount of time that is necessary to craft a superior deliverable.

In addition, they need expensive computer hardware and software, and relevant training to keep up with new technology. It's a practical matter, really: no specialist translator could afford to work for an inferior rate.

So how much is enough? Think for a minute what your plumber, or similar provider of services, charges per hour. Take into account that a translator can translate, on average, about ten pages of text per eight-hour workday. Make the sum, and that should give you a rough indication of what a reasonable rate would be.

Also keep in mind that, if you appoint a fly-by-nighter and your translation project fails, you could lose any deposit you've paid in addition to valuable project time. This may put undue pressure on the next vendor, impacting on their quality.

Getting value for your money

To sum up, find out as much as possible about a proposed translation vendor's quality assurance procedures; make sure you give them a high-quality source text; and be prepared to pay a fair price in exchange for a good translation that is delivered on time.