How Should Clients Check Professional Translations Delivered By Agencies

Do translation clients have a role in checking the accuracy and suitability of translations delivered to them by translation companies? Here we discuss some considerations related to this question.

How Urgent Is The Need For Clients To Check Delivered Translations?

When a completed translation is delivered to a client it has typically undergone a standard quality control process and procedure. At our company that means (at a minimum) that once the text has been translated by a professional linguist that’s native speaking in the target language, a second translator proofreads/reviews the first translator’s work. In some cases an additional third review is conducted prior to delivering the completed translation project to the client. TEP is a well-known acronym that stands for translation, editing, and proofreading as a sequence of steps used in some human translation processes.

In addition to translation accuracy, editing and proofreading addresses things such as correcting grammar, fluency, spelling, vocabulary choices, to mention a few categories of review items. The review phase of a translation will almost always result in changes to the initial translation. At the conclusion of the second translator’s review our expectation is that the translation is of high quality and is ready for delivery to the client for use. Some projects can include additional specialized formatting in desktop publishing applications such as InDesign, Illustrator, or eLearning authoring tools such as Articulate Storyline. When specialized formatting is required then translated text receives additional quality control review to ensure errors are not introduced in the formatting phase of the project.

Having an awareness of the translation process that precedes the delivery of a translation project to a client should help to answer the question of how much further review (if any) is needed or is likely to result in an improvement to the translation.

What Translation Clients Really Buy

What do consumers of translation (written text) services really buy in the estimated $40 billion plus language services market? They buy the professional language judgment of the linguists assigned to their projects. This is perhaps the most fundamental way to describe what translation clients pay for.

The linguistic judgment of the assigned translator might differ from that of the purchasing client, others within the client’s organization, and even translators that work for other language companies. Virtually no two people will see language the exact same way word-for-word since there are almost always multiple ways to express equivalent meaning.

Some of the reasons why translation clients elect to buy the judgment of professional linguists include:

  1. Adding language related skill sets that do not exist internally within their organization
  2. Reducing organization internal bias in communications
  3. Achieving higher overall quality of communications
  4. Saving time of internal personnel for other tasks
  5. Receiving the benefit of an additional opinion on issues involving language
  6. Speeding time-to-completion for a specific language task or project
  7. Satisfying a requirement for translation certification (adherence to defined translation process)
  8. Preserving impartiality and objectivity in the use of language

What Are Preferential Changes To Translations?

The quality control processes the translation vendors put into place normally result in high quality translations. Often when translation clients request changes to a delivered translation their change requests are in the category of preferential changes. That is the reviewer or person making the request for a change has a preference for the use of a particular word (e.g., a synonym) or other approach to expressing equivalent meaning. These types of instances in translations are not identifications of errors, but instead are indications of the subjective language preferences of the reviewer.

It’s always best when translation clients can indicate preferred translations of key industry specific terminology at the start of a project. This type of input is generally welcomed by translators. Typically clients provide this input as a bilingual glossary where key English words are listed in one column of text and the corresponding preferred translations of each English word is listed immediately in the column to its right.

What professional translators cannot promise is to meet the individual language preferences of translation reviewers internal to a client organization, nor is it even a recommended objective. If the standard for achieving a high quality translation is to meet the approval of a particular reviewer’s language preferences, then the only successful approach to achieve that is to have the reviewer perform the translation. The client then, however, runs the risk of forfeiting some or all the benefits listed above associated with hiring a professional linguist in the first place.

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Perfect Translation vs. High Quality Translation

Can professional human translators make mistakes? Is there any human activity that is 100% immune from the possibility of error? Still actual mistakes in completed translations are infrequent as a result of multiple layers of quality control that occurs prior to delivering a translation to the client.

Sometimes client-side reviewers will make preferential changes to delivered projects and refer to them as ‘corrections’. The word correction usually implies an error and preferential changes are not errors.

Below is the language we use in connection with our terms of service for translation projects:

It is our practice to provide high quality error-free translations. Should errors occur despite our best efforts, the following applies:

Affinity shall correct the following errors free of charge upon timely notification: (a) clearly incorrect translations of words/information; (b) omissions of words or information; (c) typos; (d) grammatical errors; or (e) non-adherence to an approved glossary contained in the delivered translation.

How To Instruct Client-Side Translation Reviewers

Our recommendation is that translation reviewers internal to a client organization be narrowly tasked in their assignments. Reviewers should ideally be explicitly instructed and understand that it is acceptable to make a review of a provided translation and request no changes. They should also be aware of and understand the quality control process that has already preceded their involvement. They should know it is not their role to “re-translate” text to conform with their own individual language preferences.

Too often, reviewers may be in a position such that they believe it’s their obligation to make changes and alter the delivered translation to conform with their individual language preferences. If they do not change the translated text then they have somehow not provided value in the process.

Less senior members of an organization especially might be susceptible to the temptation of making changes unnecessarily as a way of establishing a more prominent standing in their organization. Special knowledge is a recognized ‘power base’ within organizations. Individuals with a special knowledge (such as language) can gain a more influential role and elevate their positions, often a goal especially with less senior and prominent members of an organization.

Business Translation File Format

Agency Review of Client Changes to Translations

Translations delivered to clients by agencies are the property of the clients organization and they are of course free to edit/change translations however they choose to. Concerning the wisdom of making such changes, that’s another issue.

If translation clients wish to make edits to translation without further input from translation agencies then the responsible translator/agency doesn’t need to be involved. In some cases professional translators/agencies can be requested to review proposed translation changes for acceptability. Is it the responsibility of a translation agency to review someone else’s translation preferences? No not really. Still even if such review services do not come under the original terms of service that apply, agencies can elect to review client changes for acceptability to preserve good will with the customer. Our goal is to satisfy the needs of clients and if that includes going beyond what’s required then we consider it the right thing and good business to do so.