Assessing The Quality Of Translations --

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Ever wonder if that translation you paid for is as good as it should be?  In today’s global economy, obtaining accurate, consistent and timely translations in multiple languages is of the utmost importance.  Therefore, never assume that every translator or translation company is equally qualified to do the job.  Great end results begin with informed customers knowing what to look and ask for.  Here’s a checklist about assessing the quality of translations to keep you on track:

1. Find a translation company that specializes in your field.  If you have a paper on astrophysics or a patent for a medical device that needs to be translated into Haitian Creole and Shanghainese, you need to be concerned about not only the specified languages needed, but also, the technical aspects of the subject matter.  There’s more to translation than simply speaking several languages.  You wouldn’t go to a lawyer for medical advice even if they spoke the same language, so don’t expect great results if your translator’s background is art and you need her to translate a computer manual.

2. Ask for references and background information.  All translators and translation companies should be willing to provide a list of previous clients and some type of record of performance.  Before contacting language providers, browse web sites to see if other clients have made endorsements and look for information in White Pages, blogs, etc. that give a more detailed history of the translation providers.  Always be wary of a translation company that’s willing to violate confidentiality agreements by showing material that they’ve done for other clients, but don’t hesitate to ask about histories of working with clients.  And finally, make inquiries about a linguist’s education, expertise and years of experience.  Reputable translators are only as good as the last job they complete, so they tend to be very honest about what they can and can’t do.  Translation providers should never be offended if you ask specific questions about their staff’s work, so converse with them and make sure they understand what you expect from them.

3. What other services can the translation company provide for you?

In today’s business world, most translation projects are more detailed than simply retyping something in a different language.  If web design, print layouts, file formatting, editing, video subtitling or audio recordings are needed, always check to see if the translation provider is capable and willing to include those services in the process.  The more details one provider can handle, the more likely you’ll have a first-rate finished product.

4. Ask about quality control.  Good translation companies have an efficient and accurate system in place to monitor the work of its translators.  Just because a company isn’t ISO 9001 certified, don’t assume they are of inferior quality.  ISO certification doesn’t guarantee quality translations because important facets of the translation process like accuracy of content, reviews by speakers of the translation language, and checks for spelling and usage standards are not mandated by the certification.  ISO certification simply means that a company that produces something – and that includes everything from clothing to jars of salsa to language translations – has a specific quality management process in place that’s been evaluated according to international standards.  Ask any company, whether they are ISO certified or not, about the system they have in place to verify and authenticate their translation work and you may be surprised to learn that smaller companies have better and more flexible checks and balances in place.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions like: Are editors and proofreaders involved at any stage?  Can someone from my company read this and suggest other changes? Do more changes mean more money?  Above all, never sign on with a translation company until all your questions have been answered to your satisfaction and always be wary of sales pitches that sound too good to be true.

5. Find out what resources the company uses.  Every translator should have access to research libraries, reference work and the Internet to ensure that translations are accurate.  Languages constantly are in flux.  The latest research suggests that nearly 3,000 words are added to major languages each year, so staying current can be challenging.  But, good linguists make the effort

6. Ask about free quotes.  Reputable language translation businesses should provide free quotes to anyone interested in securing their services.  They also should be willingly to meet and discuss potential projects.  Remember that quality matters and so does integrity.  High quality translation companies are eager to establish relationships with their clients, and observing how transparent, timely and thorough a company is when dealing with quotes is a good first step to assessing the validity of a company’s work.  Both parties involved should always feel comfortable asking questions and exchanging information when determining how long a translation will take and how much it will cost.  It also doesn’t hurt to ask about the accuracy of someone’s quotes, as no one wants to be surprised with a bill that’s twice what was expected.

7. Find out if the translators are native speakers of the document’s target language.  The source language is the current language of the document and the target language is the language requested for the translation.  Be aware that the best practice is to find a translator who is equally proficient in both languages but who translates into his or her native tongue.

8. Determine if the translation needed is region-specific.  Linguistic nuances and cultural differences can arise frequently, especially in advertising copy.  Expressions and idioms also become very region-specific, so know where you’re material is going and try to find a linguist who is familiar with that specific area’s customs and language.

9. Make sure the source document is in the best shape possible.  Any translation is only as good as the original document, so make sure it is written clearly with proper punctuation and spelling.  It isn’t a translator’s job to change the quality of writing.  In fact, good translators strive to make sure the tone and voice of the message stays consistent.

10.  Don’t be afraid of translation-aiding technology used by your translator.  Although Google Translate hardly qualifies as an accurate tool for translation, professional translators do use technical software like glossaries and memories that can ensure consistency and save time, especially when reusing certain phrases or terms throughout a document.  Some excellent computer programs have been around for years and shouldn’t be shunned from the translation process.  In the end, translation works best as a human process but machines can certainly help the process.


Yes, the process for assessing whether or not a translation will be of good quality isn’t as easy as running a credit check, but it’s not as complex as navigating a satellite through outer space either.  Invest the energy to find the right translation company to start with and you’ll be in the hands of an agency you can trust for years to come. 

Categories: Language Translation & Interpretation, Language Translation

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