How can you assure the quality of a translation? – discussion

I will be attending the Swedish Association of Professional Translators annual conference May 4-6 in Gävle, Sweden, and as the language chair for the English into Swedish certification program, I have been invited to participate in a panel discussion on quality assurance of translations.

How can we provide quality assurance of translations? Some of the topics for the discussion are:

  • Quality assurance of translators
  • Quality assurance through translation standards
  • How to deal with a poor source text

What do you think? Can we guarantee a certain quality of translators? How? By translation tests, certification, references and/or experience? I have previously discussed translation tests and also how to evaluate a translation, and as a member of the certification committee I am of course not against certification, even though there are many high quality translators that are not certified. When I use another translator I do look at their experience and references and I am hesitant to use someone that I do not know, so for me networking and personal contact also plays an important role. If I know a person well, I believe that person also makes an effort to provide good quality translations.

Can a translation company guarantee a certain quality by implementing translation standards and/or becoming ISO certified? I know several translation companies that are certified and have to follow certain procedures, but how can they make sure that the translators also follow them?

Lastly, it is very difficult to create a good translation if the source text is poor. How do you handle poor source texts? Personally, I try to make the best of it, but it is time consuming since I have to ask for many clarifications. I usually also point out typos and errors in the source text. I have yet not had a source text that has been so bad that I have had to turn down the job.

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    4 comments

    1. Thanks for your interesting post, Tess. (Please tell us how the panel discussion went when you get a chance.)

      I agree with you on all these counts (same goes for me):
      - “When I use another translator I do look at their experience and references and I am hesitant to use someone that I do not know”
      - “… for me, networking and personal contact also plays an important role. If I know a person well, I believe that person also makes an effort to provide good quality translations.”

      The second point is definitely the case in my experience – I think the better you know a translator, the more likely they are to produce the best work they can for you. (There seems to be a graduated scale for this actually, ranging from a low/moderate likelihood to a high one; the same goes for other aspects of people’s behaviour as well, for that matter – it’s a fact of life that it’s easier for people to let their standards drop for someone they don’t know than for someone they do (anonymity = low pressure, familiarity = high pressure).

      However, the problems start to occur if a translator seems to be well qualified on paper, but they don’t deliver the goods as you would have expected them to. That happened to me recently and was very disappointing. On the other hand, the translator in question was open to feedback and subsequently produced a better translation the second time round. So things have turned out alright after all (so far, at least…).

      The way I see it, when it comes to judging whether or not a new translator is a suitable business partner, their formal qualifications help, relevant experience is a definite bonus, what other colleagues say about the person is important, but their first piece of work for me is what’s essential. That’s why I don’t generally give applicants long assignments to do – it’s too risky, because I may end up rewriting the whole translation myself (and there may not be enough time to do that properly before the text has to be submitted).

      How do you use internet-based social networks like LinkedIn to assess a translator’s potential? What makes a translator who you don’t know personally a potential candidate for employment?

      Jon, you’ve also got a good point. I guess a trusted translator who is expected to mark other translators’ work and assess it will be someone the agency has been employing for a while who has proved to be reliable again and again (= delivers on time, produces high-quality work consistently, is praised by the customer, etc.). If the agency makes the wrong choice for some reason, you’ll get the situation you’ve described where things that are correct are changed and/or messed up (in German, they appropriately say “verschlimmbessern”).

      Regards

      Carl

      Amper Translation Service
      Germany

      http://www.ampertrans.de/en

      ===========

    2. Hi Tess – These are very good questions. I’m not the most qualified to discuss many of them, but I will comment on your question about how a certified translation company can ensure that the translators follow certain procedures.

      You are right, the translation company has no control over what the translator does from the time that it receives a translation ‘kit’ to the time that it returns the translation. So, we focus on the quality of the delivery. Is terminology followed? Are style guides followed? Is the translation of high quality?

      We ‘grade’ the translator’s work on a regular basis by using trusted, 3rd party translators. They use a ‘scorecard’ to grade the various aspects of the translation.

      As a specific translator’s grades remain high, the test frequency lengthens – and vice versa. If grades are below a specific threshold, the translator is released.

      So, I think that you are right in the fact that we can not control whether a translator follows certain procedures, but we can control the level of quality that is delivered by the translator.

      • Thank you Dean for contributing and explaining how a certified translation company works with quality assurance.

      • Jon Berger

        How do you know that your ‘trusted’ translators are any better than the ones they are supposed to marking? In particular, what do you do in the event of disagreement? This is not a minor issue. I have twenty years of experience, two legal degrees and two translation-related degrees, yet I am often marked by people with none of these. Often they miscorrect my work, turning it from right to wrong.

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