Leverage Transparency to Achieve the Three Goals for Translation: Speed, Quality, and Price

By Nataly Kelly

Over the years, I have talked with many kinds of translation “buyers,” ranging from those who want to know every tiny detail of each and every part of the translation process, no matter how technical, to those who don’t want to know anything other than that the translations were published on time. I count myself in the first group and have to admit that I’m still surprised when I encounter the latter—especially since there is technology available today that allows anyone and everyone to quickly and easily know just what is “going on” within the translation process.

On the other hand, the translation process may seem so complicated, problematic, and expensive that I understand wanting to pay someone to make the pain disappear, hoping that by paying more for a complete service, all translations will be delivered back to you, perfect, with no questions asked.

There has to be a middle ground—one where you, the translation buyer, has access to the business information you desire, and where the translation experts have all the information and assistance they need to deliver a perfect rendition of your content, for a customer or reader, in a different language and with a different cultural background.

Regardless of how much intricate detail you may be interested in, at the bare minimum every “buyer” of translation services will want to know:

  • Will my translations be ready on time?
  • Will my customers (or internal, regional teams) be happy? (Although this is more likely to be voiced in the opposite direction: Will there be any complaints?)
  • How can I enable my in-country teams to sign off on the translations without a lot of rework?
  • Am I receiving good value for the price I am paying? (With the undertone of “How can I ever prove to my boss that we are not over-spending?”)

For the translator, the following are some of the key things that are needed:

  • What is the style or voice of this client’s brand?
  • Are there specific translations that I must use to convey the brand?
  • What is this client’s way of addressing the customer or reader? Do they prefer the formal or informal voice?
  • Is there any new content to translate today?
  • Can I communicate directly with someone in the client’s local office when I have questions about terminology, voice, style, or brand so that questions can be answered quickly?

There used to be a model in the translation agency business that forced the buyer to choose between speed, quality, and price, with the understanding that you could not have all three. If you wanted a fast turnaround time for a rush translation job, for example, you would pay a premium. If you wanted to pay a very low price, then quality would no doubt suffer. Today, we’re asking for all three: the right quality, at the right price, and at the speed of light.

If you have worked with or experimented with machine translation (the best known example today is probably Google Translate), you’ll also know that it isn’t yet perfect. With time and effort, you can “train” a machine translation engine to produce much-improved quality over a free service, but it still won’t be good enough to translate your culturally sensitive marketing messages appropriately. It might be good enough to help customers with problem-solving instructions, depending on how they were authored in the source language, but I wouldn’t risk my brand on expecting a “good enough” translation of marketing content. So how do you aim for “all three” when looking for top quality, high speed, and low costs?

You do need to understand, at a high level, what is going on in your translation process. Are there manual steps where files are handed over, or even where content is cut and pasted from one environment or file format to another? Where are the bottlenecks? What manipulation of content is the translation agency doing? Answers to these questions can help you determine if there’s anything you could be doing differently “upstream” that would make the whole translation process faster, less prone to error, and lower cost. If you do not ask these questions, you may never know unless the translation agency tells you. They are often working so hard to have your translations back to you on time and at top quality, that they do whatever they need to do to make the process work and to keep you, their client, happy. It’s a vicious circle because nothing is made more efficient, and the same struggles are repeated so many times that they become the standard practice.

But you don’t always need to be someone who wants to understand every technical detail of the translation process. There are a few questions that can help you identify if there is opportunity for improvement. Translation management technology can do much more for you today than simply find and reuse matching sentences. Some of the most common translation issues can now be eliminated by automating manual processes.

Take a look at the list of “don’ts” below. If you are doing any of these manual things today, technology solutions can deliver improvement to speed, quality, and price.

  • Manual hand-off of files or content. Is someone “extracting” content from files and putting it into a file format that is “easier” to translate, such as a spreadsheet? There’s a better way. You no longer need to manually copy and paste sentences for translation—this can all be automated.
  • Manual identification of content that is new or has been changed. Today such content can be identified automatically and then routed to the next person who needs to take action—typically a translation project manager­—or even directly to the person who is doing the translation.
  • Providing spreadsheets or lists of terminology (“glossaries”), which the translators are then expected to refer to while working on a translation. If they are not already using technology that recommends your preferred terminology to them as they work, without the extra step of researching in a separate file or location, then the process is not as efficient as it could be.
  • Providing screenshots or other “pictures” of a website or document. The purpose of this is so the translator can (hopefully) determine how the sentences they are translating fit into the overall context of the finished product. Without context, the translator has to ask the project manager, who has to ask the translation client, who has to ask the developers, what the word “home” in file1235x.htm means. There are solutions available that can enable the translator to know exactly where the word “home” will be displayed on the final website, improving translations in two ways: by eliminating the time and effort needed to track down an answer and by allowing the translator to provide top-quality translations immediately.
  • Providing screenshots or PDFs to in-country reviewers to mark up and send back to the translation agency, so that they can then try to find the right place to make changes in the translation. Instead, reviewers (like translators) can see the content in need of translation as the end customer will see it and can immediately adjust translations as they review them, and they are likely to find far fewer things to change, as the translator had everything needed to make the translation perfect on the first attempt.
  • Re-packaging and manually returning the translated files for re-compiling, publishing, or processing prior to delivery to your end customer.
  • Calling or emailing your translation agency to ask them if the translations will be delivered on time. Today, you can have access to status information from anywhere you have a Web browser even if your translation project manager is on the other side of the world.

Every manual step in the translation process is an opportunity for more efficient processing and less opportunity for error. That’s why the end-to-end process should be open and transparent, and why you really should ask to “see inside” the black box process. Or ask someone to look inside for you. By automating those inefficient, manual processes, you can be well on your way to all three goals for translation: speed, quality, and (the best) price.

By Nataly Kelly, ©2015 Intercom, Volume 62 Issue 02, February 2015