For all translators and all translation companies, 'quality' is the Holy Grail, the pot of gold
at the end of the rainbow, the Ark of the Covenant ... As this list
demonstrates, sometimes translation quality is perceived to have an almost
mythical quality, to be something magical, sought after but never attained
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The good news is that quality translation is
an attainable goal, if certain concrete guidelines and steps are followed.
This article will set out to introduce what Elanex believes are the '5
pillars' of translation quality - the 5 basic building blocks which when
done effectively will lead to quality translation, every time.
First a short note on what this article is not about.
This article is not about how an individual translator can improve his
or her ability to translate. The focus of this article is on how to manage a
translation project - how to ensure that every translation is done well,
no matter what size, what subject, what language, what volume or what timeframe.
Elanex does provide a number of resources to help our translators grow and learn,
but they are not the focus of this article.
Each of the quality measures below is essential if your goal is to create the
best possible quality translation. This is certainly not the goal of all translation companies -
and if your goal is lowest price, then read no further, as top quality work requires extra time,
attention, effort and inevitably cost. If on the other hand you strive to create the best
possible work you can - and to do that at the lowest cost - this article contains
an introduction to some
of the most valuable techniques Elanex has spent many years developing.
The 5 pillars
The 5 pillars of successful translation projects are:
- Choosing the right team
- Defining the process
- Applying technologies for quality and cost management
- Using glossaries effectively
- Building and managing styleguides
Choosing the right team
The starting point of a successful translation project is the right team. At Elanex we put a
large up-front investment into team selection to ensure that we have the right mix of subject skills,
experience and software skills, as well as the optimal size of team for the timeline.
Our guidelines for successful team building are:
- The team should include some combination of translators, editors, and layout editors, together with other
roles as necessary - division of labor is an important part of team organization, because it allows
individuals to focus on their strengths
- The team should be as large as necessary to finish the work on time, but no larger -
larger teams are harder to manage
- The editor is the final arbiter of translation quality, and so it is absolutely vital that the editor
has the right experience - there is rarely time for an editor to 'learn on the job'
- Depending on the timeline, the translators may not all need to have the same level of experience, but
the editor will need to be involved in this decision, since the editor will have to work with the output
of the translators
- All translations should be seen by at least two people - even the best people make mistakes
Defining the process
Even with simple translation projects, the process can rapidly become complex. If three people are involved (say
two translators and an editor), what happens if changes are made to documents partway through the work?
What happens if there is an unexpected change in team? What happens if the subject matter is extremely unusual
and it's very difficult to find suitable translators? With larger more involved translations, the
complexity multiplies exponentially: how are questions and uncertainties from translators handled? How
are style updates from the editor propagated made available to the whole team?
The way to make this complexity manageable is to define the steps that will be taken under each of these
scenarios, starting with the 'expected' scenario (everything goes according to plan), and working through
the various possible situations that might require changes. As the project manager, the key to success
is to write down the scenarios you can envisage, and determine the steps you
will take if each of them happens. Although this might sound time-consuming, most of the scenarios are
common to all projects, so the work does not need to be redone with every project.
Once you have the steps that need to be taken broken down, as a next step you can think about which
steps can be delegated, in order to reduce your workload as the manager. At Elanex, we split the 'project
management' role into several parts, the most important of which are actual project management,
translation coordination (the work of managing and supporting translators for projects), and document
management (which primarily involves running our software for reducing the amount of manual translation that
needs to be done). This division of labor only makes sense on larger projects, or projects where there is an
unusual complexity (in document format or subject matter), but it is extremely effective at maximizing the
efficiency of the project manager.
An important component of the process is the timeline, and in general the timeline must be thought through
before work on the project commences. The following are critical guidelines for determining a timeline:
- In general only one editor (per language pair) should be used, and so the timeline should be based
on how long it will take that one editor to go through all translations. This will depend on the
editor herself, the experience of the translators, as well as other factors such as the document
format, complexity of material etc.
- Rather than set up a timeline where everyone works at maximum capacity, it is much more effective if
the team has time to 'learn', and to complete the stages of the project successfully before moving on.
The editor needs time to learn the styles of the translators; the translators need to learn from the
editor's feedback; all translations need to be stored in the Inventory (Elanex's translation memory solution)
to ensure that cost is minimized and quality is maximized.
Applying technologies for quality and cost management
Elanex's business model is based on the belief that technology can play a large part in quality
translation, and we have developed a range of technologies that we use on all our projects. Among the key
goals of our technologies are:
- Translation memory. Translation memory provides huge benefits for both cost reduction and quality
management. Elanex has put a large investment into our 'translation Inventory', a server-based translation
memory system which provides faster access, better matching, and more
versatility than other solutions.
- Project automation. As far as possible we try to make the project manager's life easier by
automating the necessary steps.
- Automated quality review. We use technologies to prevent and identify common translation problems,
sometimes eliminating the problems without any human intervention.
- Data collection. We track all our costs and the quality of our translation carefully so that we can
eliminate sources of poor work, and always provide the best value we can to our clients.
Using glossaries effectively
Glossaries are key to consistency between projects, and within large projects. In addition,
glossaries can be a huge help in translator training over time, and in reducing translation cost
for existing clients.
Correct use of terminology is the biggest perceived indicator of translation quality
after the 'naturalness' of the text. However, 'correct' is often a judgement of the beholder -
different companies in the same industry often develop their own preferred translations of common terms,
and of course have their own marketing terms which are completely unique to them.
It goes without saying that different industries often use the same
term in different ways, and may commonly use terms which are not used at all outside the industry.
Addressing this need requires systematic and organized creation and application of glossaries - by
language pair, by subject area, and by client. For every project, the applicable glossaries should be
selected and combined, distributed to translators, and applied effectively to the translations.
Glossary application is another area where technology can help enormously - Elanex's glossary
management system allows storage and combination of any number of glossaries, application to any document
on a sentence by sentence basis so that translators can see glossary matches at a glance together with
their translations, and automated quality review to check that glossary translations have been correctly
Effective use of glossaries is a form of 'preventive maintenance': if your glossaries are extensive,
accurate, and applied prior to translation, the editor will be able to spend less time checking obvious
issues and more time on subtle issues, improving overall quality of the work.
Building and managing styleguides
Along with glossaries, styleguides are the other key 'preventive' measure for translation
success. Also like glossaries, they are rarely applied systematically or thoroughly even on large
By 'style' we refer to any of the editorial decisions that need to be made when creating a
translation - everything from pure linguistic issues (should the bullets use complete sentences?) to
partial linguistic / presentation issues (should we use capitals for all words in titles?) to
pure presentation issues (what kind of bullets should we use?).
Any document of any size involves tens to hundreds of these decisions - and if
you work with multiple translators (which is necessary for projects of any size or complexity), or even
if you simply work with a translator/editor pair each of whom have strong opinions, the chances are
close to 100% that the different team members will make different decisions. In other words, the person
responsible for final quality - in Elanex's case the editor - will spend a considerable amount of time
working on fixing issues that could have been prevented at no extra cost, instead of spending
her time on the subtle issues that will lead to a truly great translation.
The solution: create and organize a styleguide library in the same way as your glossary library.
The styleguide library does not need to be anywhere near as extensive - you should simply have a
'default' styleguide, translated into each of the languages you translate into, organized in
a modular fashion so that you can easily add client-specific modules as needed. The styleguide should then
be supplemented by client-specific (and industry-specific) sections as needed.
By Jonathan Kirk, Elanex CEO