Translation Quality: How to Check It?

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Translation quality is not an easy topic to handle as there is no mathematical precision you can rely on. Some corrections are a matter of taste, and tastes differ, as you know. The text that reads well for some of us will not be read well by others – that’s why we prefer different writers with different styles.

If we look at machinery, for example, we all know what it means when a device does not work – it simply does not start or yields the wrong result. The IT industry is more complicated when it comes to the “does not work” concept: the software may work in a way far from the optimal one, or there are bugs that are not clear at once. That’s why there is a separate profession, software testers, who try to catch all those bugs. But how can we define a translation that “does not work?”

We can set some criteria, but they will still have some room for variance.

Behind the Scenes: How Experts Check Peer Work

First of all, we propose looking at the way an editor would check the translation for you to understand the possible issues that arise.

A typical instruction on how to check the text looks as follows:

  1. Check that the meaning of the original text has been preserved
  2. Check that the wording is appropriate and the text reads well
  3. Check the text for possible grammatical mistakes or typos
  4. Make sure the text (including terminology used) is fully consistent

A thorough editor’s work means that each of these four criteria is checked – one at a time. That is, the text is read four times. Does that look surprising? Well, a human brain has limited capacity, and keeping the focus on all details at once tires our attention out very quickly.

Each stage has its difficulties, though.

  • For example, you will need a native speaker for the second stage to be completed in the most efficient way. A person who knows a foreign language can miss slight shades, like non-natural expressions, an ambiguous place in the text, or a difference in tone.
  • Consistency may be an issue, especially if you order a lot of documents to translate and they are distributed among many translators. Glossaries are of great help here, of course. But not all translators are careful and attentive enough; in this case, the editor will have to identify the key vocabulary and make sure all company documentation will refer to things identically.
  • If you check the meaning, you enter the grey zone where there is no exact answer on what is right and what is wrong. Languages express things differently, and a part of the meaning is inevitably lost. Sometimes even two editors dispute the sentence accuracy. Such disputes may be endless, so translation agencies often assign the right to make a final decision to one person, usually the most experienced and knowledgeable expert.

Well, this is how the situation looks from inside the industry. However, what if you ordered the translation and want to check its quality afterward, especially when you don’t know the language at all? Well, there are still things that can be done, and we are going to take a closer look at them.

Tips for a customer who wishes to check translation quality

In-House Editors

Large companies can have linguists working with the materials after they have been handled by translation agencies, and this may be a good solution for you. Remember, however, that being bilingual does not mean that a person can check the translation properly – you will need a professional who knows all the bottlenecks.

A great advantage of having such a specialist is that he deals with similar documents in terms of vocabulary, style, and tone, so inaccuracies are spotted quickly (a translation agency works for many companies, and some subtleties may be lost).

Back Translation

You get the translated piece and assign it to a different translator who has no access to the source. The text is translated back to the source language, and you compare the original and the resulting back translation to see how accurately the meaning was preserved. The two texts will never be identical, though, as translation always brings some variance. Still, the key things should be conveyed.

Evaluation by Another Translation Agency

If you intend to order large volumes and have no trusted translation services provider yet, you may want to select one. Order a small piece to be translated and send it to another translation agency for evaluation. However, take their opinion with a grain of salt as each business wants to show that their services are the best – sometimes by criticizing competitors a little more than deserved.

Machine-Translated Spot Checks

Identify the most important sentences in the text and try translating them using Google Translate to see whether they convey what you initially wanted. This method is cheap and fast, but you probably understand quite well that it has its limitations as machine translations are literal and done out of context. And still, you can use it – at least to make sure there are no major inaccuracies.

Choose a Reliable Translation Provider

There are people who do their job well, and all you have to do is to find them! Sounds banal, but it still works. And here are some tips on how to choose a translation provider:

  • Choose a small or a medium-sized company as they are less likely to outsource your translation to dozens of other companies (and more likely to assign a linguist who will handle your texts)
  • CAT tools and machine translation (with post-editing) are used by agreement with the customer only
  • Make sure the company can keep your data confidential if needed.
  • Ask what outsourcing policy the agency adheres to: three rounds of outsourcing may result in high costs and no responsibility for the quality.
  • Seek reasonable prices. Translators get 50% of the fee on average, and they will hardly work for 10 dollars a day.

Translation quality matters. If you are not sure of that, try selling something to someone using a poor Internet connection, when half of your words are lost and the meaning is hard to catch. And you will see quite clearly why good communication is the key.

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