5 Step to Improving Your Translation Quality Results

When you use a translation service, it’s easy to feel like you have no control over the quality of the final translation. However, it is possible to control this quality to a very high degree.

Let’s go through what you need to discuss with your LSP to ensure your next translation is the quality you want it to be:

  • Define quality
  • Define the translation process that will be used
  • Define the calibre of the translation team
  • Determine the Tools and the Role Technology Plays in your Translation Output
  • Define your service standard

It’s okay if you don’t know what to say regarding any of these topics. The LSP should be able to walk you through their processes, capabilities and tools. There are no secrets here.

1. Define Quality

Before you take steps to ensure a certain standard of quality, it’s important to define exactly what you mean by quality. Entire books have been published on this topic, but a good start is to focus on how the translation will be used. Below are three general examples of how to define quality. You can use them as a start to describe your needs to an LSP.

Internal – for personal comprehension purposes only

If your interest or is to ‘know what it says’, then you’re in luck. This is the lowest meaningful level of quality and therefore the cheapest to achieve. Here is a general definition of quality to start with:

Locale conventionLow
Technical TerminologyLow

Informal – low business risk purposes

If the quality needs to be functional but a small degree of imperfection is permissible, then a little more effort and investment is needed. Here is a definition of quality to start with:

Locale conventionLow
Technical TerminologyLow

External – high business risk purposes

This is the caliber of quality that most translations usually need to be at. The degree of effort that went into the creation of the source files needs to at least be matched in the translation process.

Locale conventionHigh
Technical TerminologyHigh

You should explain to your point of contact at the LSP how you intend to use the translated files, so they’re aware of the level of quality you need to strive for.

1. Define the Translation Process That Will be Used

Once you’ve defined the desired quality of the translation, it’s time to select the appropriate translation process. The LSP will select the process without your input, but if you don’t want any surprises it’s important to have a conversation about this.

Here are several options that exist – notice how each affects quality:

Machine TranslationThink Google Translate. The translation won’t be certified, and you wouldn’t need it to be anyway. However, it gives you a general idea of what something says.
Professional Translation-onlyThis is the lowest professional quality LSPs sell. Most LSPs are not certified in the ISO 17100 so they tend to provide this level of service. It’s cheap, and it works some of the time.
Machine Translation + EditingMachine translation (MT) is followed by a professional translator to improve the translation. The result is a stilted-reading translation, but it is certified for accuracy. This approach can be used for cheap content with a very limited lifespan. Many LSPs market this quality level as “professional translation”, but it’s not the same. The only way to know is to get it validated afterward by a native person.
Professional Translation & EditingThis is the ISO 17100 approach. It’s supposed to be used when translation quality matters the most – when revenue, branding and business risk are on the line. Having a second translator check the first translator for errors doesn’t guarantee an error-free translation, but it gets you as close as humanly possible using two pairs of eyes. From this process, you can add a third pair of eyes, but this is exceptional.

1. Define the Caliber of the Translation Team

Once you’ve agreed on the translation process, it’s time to address the caliber of the translation team. Of course, this only applies if you’ve selected a translation process that requires human participation.

Different translation companies source vendors in different ways. Some larger companies use a reverse bidding process, e-blasting thousands of self-proclaimed translators simultaneously who then bid as low as they can for the job. This process of selling the “gig” to the lowest bidder can work for low-value content, but can otherwise be catastrophic.

Beyond this, it’s important to ensure translators meet the following criteria:

Full-time translator/editor

This is usually a prerequisite, but might not be for web-based LSPs that participate in the gig economy or extremely large LSPs. For languages with very few speakers, though, it may not always be possible.

Native to the target language

Due to the nature of language and human cognition, native speakers who live within the country of the target language offer the highest caliber of translation quality. This characteristic is not always necessary but is ideal and easy to source. With the exception of time limitations, the use of in-country native language translators should always be a requirement.

Training in translations or at least 5 years of experience

Being bilingual is not enough to make for a good translator. Training in translations significantly improves the chances of the translation being completed correctly and on-time. For popular languages, finding professional translators that meet this criterion should be easy.

Training in the domain area

Ideally, translations of legal documents would be translated by someone who is also trained in law. Still, translators of this kind are extremely hard to find. The alternative is to use translators with tremendous experience translating legal documents and/or training specifically in the translation of legal documents. Experience in the domain area is a requirement, but academic credentials in addition to experience in the domain area are ideal.

Capable of using translation memory technology

If applicable (the technology can’t always be used on a file), the translator should know how to use computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, such as translation memory (TM). This ensures that they’ll use the tools correctly, and the translation process will benefit fully from them.

1. Determine the Tools and the Role Technology Plays

For completeness, let’s go through the tools that are indirectly part of the translation process as well:

File Management

Is the process for determining the value of a translation project automated? Which parts are a guess? This will reveal how much flexibility there is in pricing. There usually isn’t much, but it’s always worth understanding.

Will the translated text be placed into the new file automatically or manually?

Some file types are harder to work with than others. For example, Microsoft Word is simple and direct, but Adobe PDF files can be a nightmare (there are worse options, too). The amount of effort the translation team needs to make in order to deliver a file to you will be reflected in the cost. You may be asked for the source file, which is the original file used to create the content.

Translation Quality

Will you create a glossary from the source file?

A glossary is a list of key terms (usually proper nouns and specific technical terms) that should be translated in a particular way and consistently. If this matters in your project, make sure a glossary is created. You can ask for a copy of this as proof that it was used. You can also check yourself afterward (you don’t need to know the language for this) to see if it was used.

Will translation memory be used?

Unfortunately, not every LSP uses TM, but it should be used whenever possible. Some LSPs will shortcut the process and not use TM if the amount of text is extremely small, but you should make sure TM is used whenever possible including projects where just one sentence is translated.

Will content from reference files be used?

If you can provide reference files, make sure you do and that they are used. The reference files should be used to create a glossary and, in combination with its translation (if you had it translated), added to the TM to both reduce the overall cost of the translation and increase external consistency.

Data Security

If applicable, is the server storing your files HIPAA compliant?

If you care about data security, then ask this question.

1. Define your Service Standards

Anything you can think of for how you would like service is worth discussing. Here are some good questions to think about:

When do you need the project manager to be available to you?

What do you want to be informed about?

When do you need the translation by?

Is there a particular way you need the proposal or invoice presented to you for documentation purposes?

Anything else?


Communication with your point of contact at an LSP will allow you to control a very large part of the quality of your translation. In practice, if you don’t talk about it, the LSP will make assumption and decisions without your input. However, if you find yourself surprised with the outcome and want better control in the future, here is what you want to talk about:

  • What kind of quality do you expect, and for what purpose
  • What translation process makes sense to use
  • Who will be doing the translation and editing
  • What technology will be used in the process

Keep in mind that the people at the LSP are the experts, so ask questions, listen, and take advantage of the free information. Depending on the project, a translation can be rather bespoke, so the more involvement you have in the process, the happier you will be.

Once you receive your translation, you can validate it by proxy in a number of different ways without knowing both languages.

This is the second article in a series about translation quality. Read our first article about the Application of the Principles of Quality Management in the Translation Industry: Client Focus.

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