News | 11.06.2019

6 reasons why your translation quality might be poor

Translation quality is perhaps the most important factor when commissioning translations, so why do so many agencies get it wrong? Many buyers have received a translation at some point that they are told is ‘not right’ or ‘looks like a Google Translation’, causing potential embarrassment and poor sales or product delays. What are the reasons behind these quality concerns?

The first thing to point out is that there is sometimes confusion in the quality parameters used to judge a translation. Often clients only pay for a straightforward translation of the text they have written, but the person reviewing it may have expected something approaching copywriting or transcreation and are disappointed with the quality. It is important to understand that translation is not black and white, and content can be translated accurately but still miss the mark if the desired tone has not been achieved. Therefore, it is important to identify if the issues are objective errors (spelling, grammar, syntax) or whether they are more on the creative side.

  1. One principal reason for poor quality could be that your Language Service Provider (LSP) has chosen an unsuitable translator for the job – either because they lack experience in your industry, or because they specialise in technical translation rather than more creative work (or vice versa). In a bid to be competitive, some LSPs use non-professional translators or even students to carry out their work, which can lead to quality issues. Managing translators and their different skills is key to finding the right person for the job and it is vital for LSPs to regularly check their translators’ work and update records with feedback and new skills, so that they can have complete confidence that the translator selected is the right person for the job.
  2. A related issue for marketing translation in particular is where the LSP doesn’t take the time to understand where the client is positioning themselves in the market. Sometimes a company will want to portray themselves as a global market leader in one country, but in another territory might want to appear more like a local firm. This will influence the style of the translation and the tone of the language used. Having a detailed conversation with local marketing teams upfront, and producing appropriate reference material in the form of style guides, is a great way to improve end user satisfaction. Conversely, if this is not done it can lead to a translation that doesn’t deliver the desired impact.
  3. Another reason translation quality can suffer is time. In today’s globalised world, content is needed more quickly than ever before. Companies often do not have the time to wait for translators to spend hours considering how best to phrase each sentence, and this pressure can lead to a translation that is less than perfect. Occasionally projects might need to be split between a team of translators in order to meet deadlines, and if this process is not managed correctly, then problems can creep in. Translation is still, for the most part, a human driven exercise and cracks can appear if deadlines are too tight. Be sure to talk to your LSP and communicate what is most important to you – quality or deadline. Most agencies will try and pull out all the stops for you, and may not always highlight potential quality ramifications, but a translation that is rushed will generally not be as good as one where the translator has the time to do their work properly.
  4. Another potential stumbling block is if your agency applies a one-size-fits-all approach to different content. Whilst all clients would want all their translation work to be of a high quality, it is safe to say that most of them would be more concerned about a key press release or safety critical content than an internal email, for example. For this reason, it is key that you speak to your agency about whether they offer different levels of service for different content types. It may seem obvious to you, but some agencies may not take the time to understand your requirements fully and may process a key marketing message in the same way as processing an internal communication. This may lead to your translation being technically correct, but without it hitting the spot in the way that you want.
  5. Inappropriate use of translation technology can also be a factor in perceived poor quality. This technology, in the form of translation memories and termbases, can ensure that new multilingual translation is consistent with previously translated content and uses approved terminology. If a project is carried out without the benefit of this technology, quality can suffer. This can be especially apparent where significant volumes of translation have been undertaken previously – if the new translation uses different terminology or a different tone, then this can be perceived as poor quality, even if there is nothing grammatically wrong with the work.
  6. Finally, of course, pricing can have a significant effect on quality. There is often a distinct lack of transparency when it comes to translation pricing. Customers (understandably) often look for the cheapest deal and LSPs battle it out to win their business, but do they always provide the same service for that cheaper price? It’s not cut and dried but, as with any business, it’s likely that there will be some sacrifice somewhere if an LSP has had to halve their quote to win the business. The answer? Have an open and honest conversation with your approved LSP about what’s included in the pricing… and remember to also have that conversation with the LSP that’s wooing you with a price that seems too good to be true.

Translation quality is rightly prioritised by clients: after all, a poor translation can really do damage to your brand. And whilst not all ‘quality concerns’ are the same, there are initiatives that agencies can take to avoid creating a below-par translation. To talk to us about quality or about your translation requirements in general, please get in touch.

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