How to Judge Translation Quality

Judging the quality of a translation is hard. As a quick Google search will reveal, every translation company claims to produce the best quality. But if you don’t speak the language, how can you tell? The subjective nature of language makes it even more challenging to assess translation quality. People simply have different opinions regarding how things should be worded.

So how do you know whether a translation company has delivered high-quality work? In this article, we provide some clear, objective criteria you can use to determine whether a translation is a good one.

how to identify a high-quality translation

Good translation entails accurately communicating meaning from one language (the source) to another language (the target). It must convey the original tone and intent of a message, while taking into account cultural and regional differences.

High-quality translations should:

  • Effectively communicate the original meaning to the target audience in a manner that is both readable and comprehensible.
  • Follow all grammatical conventions and adhere to rules for line breaks, punctuation, alignment, and capitalization.
  • Use proper conventions for addresses, dates, and measurements.
  • Use accurate and consistent terminology; if a glossary is utilized, the translation must adhere to all terminology established in the glossary.
  • Reflect the style of the source material.
  • Adhere to current acceptable usage of the language and use the appropriate register for the target audience.
  • Meet all of the client specifications.
  • Take any cultural factors into consideration.

Ultimately, a translation should read as though it was written in the target language. A good translation should NOT add information to the source content or modify the style, tone, or meaning of the original in any way.

An exception applies when dealing with marketing and advertising content. Web copy, advertising, and creative concepts do not always translate directly from one culture to another. Such content often requires transcreation, which entails adapting ideas and concepts to the target culture. It is sometimes necessary to make substantial changes to the original content in order to adapt the message so it resonates. The result is often a combination of newly developed content, translated content, and content that has been recreated.

ideal process for high-quality translation

How can you judge whether a company will produce high-quality work?

Of course, the caliber of the linguists contributes to the quality of a translation. A Language Service Provider (LSP) should use translators and editors who are native speakers of their target language and live in a locale where the language is spoken. Someone who is a resident of a specific locale will have the best understanding of contemporary usage. A translator must also have proven expertise in the subject matter they are translating. For example, a linguist with a legal background might not be suitable to translate exhibition didactics for a museum.

But translators are just one piece of the puzzle. To reliably produce high-quality translations, a company must consistently follow processes that have proven successful.

At Eriksen, the translation process includes steps to double- and triple-check quality.

  • After the text is translated by the primary linguist, it is sent to a second, equally qualified linguist for editing.
  • The editor compares the translation to the source to ensure the text is error-free and conveys the style and intent of the original.
  • The original translator reviews any changes, incorporates revisions, and finalizes the translation.
  • Lastly, a final round of quality assurance is conducted to make sure the work meets all client specifications.

Having multiple eyes on the work provides checks and balances, ensuring that quality standards are maintained.

starting a translation project off right

Beyond great linguists and tight processes, there are additional factors that affect the end result.

The quality of the source text impacts the quality of the translation. When text is written with clear, concise language, there is less room for misinterpretation. Proper proofreading for correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation helps ensure that mistakes do not find their way into the translation.

Linguists should be provided with any available resources, including style guides and contextual or reference material. A glossary, also called a terminology database, term base or lexicon, is a tool that improves consistency across translation projects. It is a compilation of a company’s key terminology in the source language along with the approved translations in the target language. This helps translators ensure that terms are used correctly and consistently each time they appear. In order to maintain a consistent style, vocabulary, and voice, it’s good practice to establish a glossary upfront.

how can post-translation review be used to gauge quality?

It is easy to assume that a post-translation review conducted by an in-house reviewer would be a good means of assessing translation quality. This assumption can be true in cases where a reviewer uncovers true linguistic errors. However, much depends on the integrity of the review process.

First and foremost, the success of post-translation review depends on the qualifications of the reviewer and how closely they adhere to best practices. A qualified, knowledgeable reviewer will be familiar with both the company and the content and possess a high level of proficiency in both the source and target languages. The reviewer’s role is to ensure the correct usage of industry-specific terminology and the proper communication of the company’s branding standards. It is not good practice for a reviewer to introduce stylistic or preferential changes.

When assessing translation quality, recognize the difference between mistakes and preferential choices. Translators will make informed decisions based on the target audience, as well as any contextual material they’ve been given to help them understand a company’s tone and voice. But individuals have different preferences in their choice of words or expressions. Therefore, suggestions introduced during the translation review process may not be indicative of errors. The same applies to edits that refine branding language. While such changes can be very valuable in defining a company’s message, they should not be used as a sole indicator of translation quality.

staying focused on the big picture

Quality is not limited to the factors outlined above. A good translation is one that meets a desired goal, and a good translation company is one that works with its clients to achieve that goal. For example, if a translation is being used for information purposes only, and time is of essence, then the time and money required for a three-step quality assurance process might not make sense.

Some criteria Eriksen uses to gauge success of a translation project include:

  • Was a clear timeline provided and adhered to?
  • Were materials delivered in the agreed-upon format?
  • Was the process explained clearly from the start?
  • Was the team responsive to questions and were they addressed thoroughly?
  • Was the team flexible with regard to any issues or changes that occurred?

While good customer service should not be confused with translation quality, it is a factor to consider when evaluating overall satisfaction.

reliable, high-quality results

While the task of judging translation quality is not always easy, the guidelines above provide a good set of criteria for assessing whether a translation meets the right standards. By working with a translation company that adheres to best practices, follows stringent processes, and maintains good lines of communication, you can expect a smooth process and reliable, high-quality results.

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