In the translation industry, right after the word “translation”, the word “quality” is not far behind and it is something that rings in the ears of everyone that has ever had to deal with the subject. We are all human and we are all prone to error, but it should be the goal of every translator and every translation agency to improve the quality of their translations, however, more importantly, it is important to ensure a certain level of quality across the board for any translations performed at any time and be able to maintain that level of quality over the long term.
Nothing is perfect, particularly in the case of something as subjective as written text. Everyone has their own style of writing which may be seen as quality to some and rubbish to another. That is what makes text so flavorful and why some people, in the case of literature, love certain authors or absolutely despise others, for example.
When translating, in contrast to authoring text from scratch, the text is authored in one language and all the aspects, ideas and content are then “translated” into the desired language. It is up to the translator to ensure all of these things have been conveyed into the target language. In addition to that, certain ideas have been localized into the culture of the target language. It can, in fact, be possible for the translation to be better than the original text, but it keep in mind that translators are not miracle workers and, in general, are not able to take a horrible source text and make the content sound immaculate in the target text.
Ensuring high quality in translation and keeping this quality at a constant level is something that has to be done systematically and furthermore, it should also be a goal to continuously improve that level of quality in order to keep a competitive edge over the competition. There is always room for improvement, but finding out where improvement has to be made and implementing measures to optimize quality requires a great deal of effort. Nevertheless, the results are something that is definitely worth aiming for.
First, break down your translation efforts into processes. Think about everything you have to do in order to deliver translations and write these processes down chronologically. This may include such things as analyzing the source text, creating a terminology list, translating the text, running a spelling check, performing a consistency check, manually proofreading the document, etc,. This list is by no means exhaustive. There might be 100 processes involved. It all depends on your ability as a translator/agency as well as your resources and infrastructure.
After these processes have been defined, analyze them and evaluate their efficiency. See if anything is being done redundantly or if anything can be done differently in order to improve efficiency. Following this, during your next few translations, go through these processes consciously as if you are performing specific duties during the translation process. Write notes on what you notice during each process. Afterwards, you can evaluate this to see if anything can be done more efficiently.
For example, when proofreading, are there mistakes that you tend to make in your translations again and again? Well, this is where you are especially prone to make errors. Write these things down, become aware of them and see if you can fix these issues already during the translation process itself or be consciously aware of this issue during proofreading. Remember that, according to the best quality methodologies across all industries, the best quality control is in-process quality control. In the translations world, this means that dealing with quality issues before the end of the translation process is a lot more efficient than having to go back and fix the quality of work that has already been finished. This also touches upon the topic of continual improvement.
Once you have perfected your processes to what you believe is the further level possible, then check everything again. Look back at previous translations / projects and see what you could have done better. Do any processes need to now be added, modified or omitted?
As a follow up, make sure that you get feedback from whoever is receiving your translation. Feedback can be one of the most important tools in attaining great quality. Allowing third-party feedback to take place allows you to analyze your processes further and also recognize any lapses in quality, which can of course happen due to the fact that we are all human. Allowing the customer to give you this feedback is a great way to show your customers just how dedicated you are and that you care about them and the services rendered by you to them. It gives you the chance to show them how important it is for you to remedy any errors in your translations and show that you take such issues seriously. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that and don’t work with proofreaders, spend a little bit of money in order to have a few professional individuals proofread random samples of your translations. It would at least help you identify where you need to improve your skills.
For each translation project, keep a “lessons learned log” and make entries of the issues you have dealt with in the form of journal using key words in the entries you write. If your log is kept in a word file, even hundreds of translations later, you will be able to search for specific issues that may help you later during the course of subsequent translation projects. Make sure to note the name of the customer so that you can also track issues that you have had to deal with as regards specific customers. This will help you improve your services in general. Keep in mind, in any business, knowledge is valuable, so make it a point to not let any knowledge go to waste.
Start rating your translations as to how well they were completed and try rating them in different categories, such as style, grammar, content, customer feedback, etc. Over a period of time, have a look at the translations that may have been rated poorly in specific categories and see if you can find any iterative patterns. Is there anything you can change to improve the quality of your translations? Do some research online and see if there is any information on how your competitors are dealing with the same situation. Benchmarking is a great way to improve quality. See what the competition is doing and try to match them and surpass them.
Make sure you keep updating an optimizing your processes and, in particular, ensure that each time you or your agency perform a translation, that translation is subject to each and every process you have devised, no matter how big or small the text is. This will ensure that the quality remains constant.
Lastly, have someone else have a look at all of the processes and data you have collected. Get a second opinion. When it gets down to it, the more brain power you have working on your processes and optimizing them, the better and more consistent your quality will be.
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