Translations come in many different forms, styles, and
qualities as there are individuals who require them. With the advances in
online translation programs, anybody with an internet connection can set up a
“translation service”. A well-crafted web page and a few quality write-ups, and
even a person who has no experience can offer the same services as a
long-established and reputable establishment.
Granted, the services they will be providing are not likely
to meet your needs. What do you look for to ensure you will be receiving
quality translation services? What questions do you need to ask?
Defining Quality Translation
It is often said that quality is a concept that is hard to
describe. It is the lack of errors or the overall feeling you get from a
finished product? Is quality tangible or more of an ethereal concept? In
translation, quality is a little easier to define than it is for many other
products or services.
With translations, the ultimate qualifier of quality is this
question: does the translated document read like it was written by a native of
the target language with an expertise in the specific field being translated,
and thus accurately and completely representing the intent of the source
There are levels of quality in our everyday life. Documents
have typographical errors, there are mistakes in advertisements, and people
make erroneous claims. People of the same language group hire writers,
marketers, advertisers, and the like to create content for them, and there are
Mistakes are not just part of the world of translation, they
are part of life in general. However, just as businesses in a given country
choose their writing, marketing, or advertising agency carefully, you should
put the same due diligence into selecting your translation service.
A law firm that deals in million-dollar business contracts
is not likely to hire out the transcription of their legal texts to the lowest
bidder. The preparation of patent applications does not go to the cheapest
freelancer on the internet, and book publishers are not taking just any
unedited script from unknown writers.
Yet, often these same companies, when looking to have their
materials used overseas, will not spend the same time or effort selecting a
translation service or demand the same quality in their translations.
Of course, it only takes one bad experience before they
learn their lesson, and many of these lessons can be found with a Google search
for “famous translation mistakes”. What can you do to not repeat their errors?
Demand Field-specific Translators
Many translation services run your documents through a machine
translator and have a bilingual speaker give it a quick once over. While
this may work for some documents, if you are translating a technical manual or
a document in a specialized field, this is a recipe for disaster.
Some fields that require translators with field-specific
knowledge include genetics, pharmacology, molecular biology, medical science,
engineering, and education. Your translator should not just have knowledge of
the field but a mastery of it.
For example, they might have a doctorate in the field, work
in the field, be conducting research, or even be retired from that particular
Clarify the Translation Culture
A document that is technically correct can still be entirely
wrong. Remember, it is the message that is important not the words. Ensure that
your translator has a complete understanding of the target culture or you may
end up with a document that uses all the right words and presents the entirely
The Internet if filled with humorous stories of businesses
whose slogans, products, or even business names got lost in translation. Make
sure your translator is able to catch these faux pas before your documents get
A business document that does not hold up in court does not
do you any good. If you are translating documents of a legal nature, make sure
your translator has knowledge of the target culture’s legal system and current
legal precedents. If you use the wrong form, wrong format, or wrong words, your
documents may be invalidated. This is especially important when cultures have
legal systems that are quite different from one another, such as those in
American, China, and the Middle East.