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The Secrets of Outstanding Translation Quality Control

2016-12-23 00:00

It is always entertaining to point out examples of failed translations and attempts at product localization. These failures of quality control are cautionary tales that point to the importance of devoting time and effort to the production of high-quality work for international markets.

But how do you monitor and manage the quality of internal or agency translation and localization work? What steps can you take to make sure that your message is being faithfully reproduced in the target language while still managing a process that often involves tight time frames and limited budgets?

We’ve learned that the best methods of maintaining quality control are often dependent on the final goals of a project as well as the process employed by the group doing the translating.

Building quality assurance into the translation process is the key to a successful program. Multi-layered teams produce their best work when there is feedback at every stage.

There are some (rare) cases where a translation may be more for informational purposes and rapid turnaround is of the essence. In these cases, the end result can tolerate some minor imperfections in terms of style as long the translation retains a rigorous accuracy of meaning. These sorts of projects are actually not very common in translation work of any type – and are almost never seen in localization projects that involve any sort of regulatory or long-term use (like financial services work or training/HR materials).

The majority of translation projects aim for linguistic quality above all and the goal is to create a language product that appears as if it were written specifically for the target market. For these projects, success is measured by how convincingly the final version can pass as “the original” rather than a translation.

Traditionally, the translation business has looked to standards and review protocols in an effort to manage quality. Since most translation firms (ours included) utilize a core group of project managers with experience in a variety of markets and languages and then a much larger network of in-market translators who act as contractors, using a uniform body of standards and a group of “disinterested” reviewers has seemed like the most effective method of managing the quality of translated work.

Systems like this (notably the system devised by now defunct Localization Industry Standards Association –LISA), utilize a broad range of scoring categories across all the features of a project. The LISA protocol invites reviewers to grade work based on the quality of the final language (accuracy, terminology, style, etc.) as well as dimensions like document formatting, the quality of help files and any indexing, and other market specific elements (like keyboard use and configuration in the case of software.)

While these systems have the benefit of being uniform across projects and do a good job of covering the entire range of features important to a successful localization effort, it’s easy to concentrate too much on rigid scoring criteria. With a review system in place that is divorced from the particulars of the job at hand as well as intimate knowledge of the target market, a quality assurance framework with this level of detail makes it possible to “fail” even the most accurate and meaningful language products.

So what do we do in order to create meaningful and workable quality control? After years of working on projects large and small, we’ve found that building quality control into each stage of the translation process yields the best results. Our most effective process involves three key components:


While there are any number of project management styles in use for translation and localization work, we have found that using both expert project managers (who can seamlessly manage the different phases of production as well as communicate well with both linguists and clients) and a system that makes it easy to know where each piece of a project is in the deployment process makes ongoing quality assurance possible.


Highly qualified linguists in a 2-deep or 3-deep translation workflow. Obviously, the goal of any language services firm is to employ only the best language experts. We’ve learned that having both expert linguists and additional editors and/or proofreaders has a marked impact on the quality of the end language product. Rather than using a single layer of translation/localization production and then engaging in QA review “at the end”, we have found that having linguist staff work with an editor (2 – layers) or an editor and proofreader (3 – layers) as work is produced yields the most benefit. Not only are any errors caught quickly, but this also provides an active feedback loop for work in progress.


In cases where we are localizing for a client facility in a new market, valuable quality feedback often comes from local staffers who understand the market and the balance between liberal and literal translation necessary to convey meaning. In addition, local market staff are a terrific resource for helping the translation team develop a comprehensive style guide and glossary to be used throughout the project.

This concentration on key players and the process that drives their work is more labor intensive than the model used by many firms, but it consistently produces the highest quality of work. And surprisingly, it also results in lower overall project costs for clients. By building QA so tightly into the development process, we find a much smaller and shorter revision cycle and much more rapid “final check” phase before launching in the target market.

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