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Translation Quality: Definition and Measurement

Local markets are often saturated and highly competitive and for many companies one of the only ways to grow a business is to tap into foreign markets or to cater to a domestic target audience in their native language. Whether you’ve been part of a global company’s localization team for two years or twenty, you’re quality-driven and quality-focused. Your company’s international sales depend on the highest possible quality content, due to intense global competition and, in some industries like biotech, exigencies for “life or death” accuracy.

Peter Drucker, who passed away in 2005, was an American management consultant and leader in the development of management education having invented a concept known as management by objectives. Bill Cohen, who was Peter Drucker’s first executive Ph.D. graduate, relates a story about how he worked for a company that made oxygen breathing masks for military aviators. He notes how no competitor ever succeeded in getting into this market. Due to a single valve used in the oxygen mask. No matter how much “quality” the potential manufacturer built into the valve, a significant number of valves produced failed to perform as specified during quality testing of production batches.

So what exactly was their secret? Well all the potential competitors would randomly test the valves and get expectedly a certain amount of fails; the company that Bill Cohen worked for tested each valve during the production process and simply threw away the defective valves, this is what met the government guidelines. In other words, the company that won the bid was not necessarily the company that made the best product, but rather the company that understood best what the quality benchmarks were, and how to control the processes that went into meeting these benchmarks. In the same way we must look at translation quality not as an absolute, but rather in such a way as to determine if the output meets our needs, and adapt ourselves accordingly.

Let’s discuss this topic in a bit more detail:

What is Quality?

Many global companies struggle to agree on what constitutes “high-quality translation”, in part because they have trouble defining what “quality” means to them. In addition, it’s crucial to define consistent ways to measure quality. There’s linguistic quality, desktop publishing quality (of documentation), quality assurance, quality of communications between the customer and the translation provider, and more.

Defining and Measuring Quality

Global organizations with dedicated localization staff typically develop processes to guide definitions and metrics of acceptable quality in the eyes of relevant stakeholders. For linguistic quality, for example, you may have in-country sales or operations staff that review parts or all of the translated content, and they may serve as the #1 linguistic quality stakeholder.

Do You Get What You Pay For?

The costs of translation services are often misunderstood. Inexperienced localization project managers or team leaders require a learning curve to truly understand how to compare vendor pricing with a fair, “apples to apples” approach. What’s more, one situation most localization teams should hope to avoid is the slashing of translation budgets—when this happens, scope must decrease, which can often lead to low-quality deliverables. Localization architect Henk Boxma authored an article entitled “Real Costs of Quality Software Translations” in which he shares invaluable information and many insights that help buyers of software localization services make informed decisions.

Additional Resources

In July of 2013, I presented a complimentary 30-minute information-packed webinar entitled “A Practical Approach to Measuring Translation Quality”. This session will help you understand the many quality challenges faced by global businesses during their translation and localization projects. You’ll learn ways to overcome common quality-related challenges, including:

  • How to resolve issues of quality awareness within your company
  • How to define and reach agreement on quality standards
  • Methods and tools for establishing and using quality metrics aligned to your industry
  • New procedures for handling errors
  • What money buys: key steps in translation and localization workflows where cost matters most and has a direct impact on quality

I invite you to reach out to me if you have any questions or if you’d like to discuss an upcoming project; I’m here to help.

About the author:

David Sommer

For roughly a decade I have been helping people around the world gain access to the world's leading products and services by making them accessible in their native language. My previous experience with a national standards institute taught me how to achieve quality and present the results.  Having started at Net-Translators as a Localization Project Manager winding up a Senior Localization Manager, and finally to my current position as Director of Strategic Operations, I have learned much about the industry, but more importantly, I have focused continually on how I can improve processes and deliverables in a theoretical as well as practical manner. I am constantly on the lookout to learn more about our industry and implement new ideas.

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