Have you ever sent someone a document and asked for feedback, all the while dreading that they would tear it apart?
Well, the same thing can happen with translations. After all, translations are really just another type of written document and everyone can have an opinion. Sometimes, asking people to review translations can be a bit like opening Pandora’s Box: you are likely to get more questions than answers.
Looking for the right translation partner for your company can be tricky.
Qualities like high industry reputation and experience as well as personal recommendations play an important role when it comes to selecting a language services provider (LSP) for your business. Some companies also look for ways to test potential providers with sample projects or with tests using client materials. At first glance, it makes perfect sense. After all, if an LSP can’t do a perfect job on a small document, then how are they supposed to be able to deliver large-scale, business-critical localization projects across multiple languages?
What is the goal of the sample translation?
Your goal probably is to choose the most suitable LSP for your localization needs. The challenge is to do it the right way. Consider the effort it takes for you and your team to produce high-quality corporate content in one language. It is a combined effort of product and service expertise, market insight, layout, and solid writing skills. Much of the time, your source texts go through a series of rewrites, approvals, and more rewrites, overseen by many pairs of eyeballs. The timeline for a typical test translation does not allow for the same, lengthy process. Yet, you expect the same results. So it is a good idea to set realistic expectations.
Let’s say you’ve sent a well-chosen, short text to a vendor. You made sure that the text embodies your company’s tone, style, and messaging. The vendor will then put their most qualified linguists on the job, ensuring that they have the needed subject-matter expertise and knowledge of the required languages and cultures. If the target text perfectly meets your expectations, it will most likely be the start of a wonderful journey to success – for both you and your LSP. But what happens if you don’t like the result? A bad result may leave you questioning the vendor’s expertise, but the root cause of their seemingly unsatisfactory performance may lie somewhere else.
It’s comparable to the process of hiring a new writer. The person’s first efforts may leave you cold. In fact, it may take you and your team some time to train and fully onboard your new team member. Therefore, it is vital that you provide any needed context, style guides, glossaries, and other reference materials to the vendor participating in the testing. Remember that a translation test is like a driver’s license and that even if a team passes initial muster, they will, like your writer, need training, exposure to your materials and guidance in order to confidently drive your message home to your consumers.
Who has the last word on the quality of the sample translations?
Let’s say you do decide to go forward with samples. In the end, and no matter what the quality, it all comes down to the reviewers. After all, it is their say that matters. They are native speakers of the target languages and have expertise in the subject matter. Furthermore, they know what will work for their company and for its target markets. While you are likely to get some feedback on your sample translations, some of that feedback may prove to be more problematic than the translations themselves, as internal reviewers can actually compromise the review process. Here’s how:
a) Preferential Changes
Each writer has a unique style. Your internal reviewers are no different. While they have the needed product and company knowledge and experience, they also have their own stylistic preferences. Just because an external translator may use a synonym or a phrase that is slightly different from what the reviewer is accustomed to doesn’t mean the expressions are incorrect. Therefore, it is important to set internal expectations and make these clear to the reviewer. As long as a translation does not contain any objective mistakes, the team who prepared it will be able to consider your reviewer’s input regarding style, tone of voice, and other preferences in future projects. It is also essential that both the vendor and your reviewers follow your company’s glossaries and style guides when working on the target text.
b) Changing the Source
There are cases in which internal reviewers get carried away with their own edits and end up completely rewriting the text to the point where the message of the target text completely differs from the message of the source text. In the worst cases, these same reviewers then “fail” a test translation because they say it is not accurate even though it has actually been faithful to the original source.
c) Conflicts of Interest
Sometimes, it is a company’s internal team that has been doing its translations, and the company then decides to outsource its translation work to a more objective party. In that case, the people reviewing the sample translations may have their own motives in mind. MediaLocate has participated in sample translation projects where our translations were reviewed by competing vendors, who were naturally motivated to disparage our work. Likewise, we have been asked to review the work of other vendors and decided against doing so because of the conflict of interest.
What does a sample translation not tell you?
It does not tell you how an LSP will perform over time. Nor will you be able to accurately judge the scalability, performance and expertise of the project team, or its financial sustainability. You probably won’t get a true sense of the overall business relationship.
Furthermore, LSPs will use the most appropriate resources available for the samples, but those resources may not be available 24/7 and 365 days a year. Consequently, it is advisable to rely on your LSP to use their expertise and insight to choose primary and alternate teams to handle your work and keep it consistent.
In the end, it comes down to communication. If you are sure that you want and need sample translations, then setting expectations with everyone involved in the process and keeping the communication channels open can prevent confusion and unpleasant surprises when it comes to review and selection time.