How to measure translation quality

How to Measure Translation Quality

One of the great debates of the translation world is how to go about measuring translation quality.

Translation is just like other disciplines in that there are differing opinions on how to improve the quality of the work that is being done. Not only do translators have different views on the subject, but clients and those that request translation services also vary in their ideas of what makes a good and bad translation.

Some clients will have one idea on what a translation should entail while other clients will think something else. Translators just starting out might think this is rather odd, but trust me, translators often come across clients who either

  1. aren’t sure exactly what they want and aren’t please with what they get because of it or
  2. don’t approve of the translations they receive even though there is nothing wrong with the translation itself.

Clients want to know how the freelancer ensures that a translation standard is met (and maybe what those standards even are), and freelancers want to know what requirements a client will use when assessing translation quality.

While it may seem straightforward, the idea of measuring translation quality isn’t necessarily the easiest question to answer because there are a lot of different issues when it comes to translation quality standards. These issues include everything from defining what constitutes a quality translation to deciding who is in charge of measuring that quality.

Who defines translation quality?

The first problem with measuring translation quality is deciding on who defines it.

The companies and organizations that have translation quality standards normally use their own in-house methods. While this is fine, it doesn’t lend itself very well to standardizing quality across the translation industry.

That’s because most companies do not want to share this kind of information with others, let alone possible rival companies.

Since each organization uses its own methods, there is definitely a lack of consistency. As a freelancer, this can be maddening trying to figure out what exactly the client considers a quality translation.

This is especially true for smaller companies that are new to the use of translators and while they might have translation quality processes and standards, maybe they’re not written down or easily transmitted to freelance translators working on their behalf.

Some companies use machine translation quality and statistical methods to help measure translation quality. This only works for companies that rely heavily on translators and use lots and lots of translations that they can run through their statistical models.

Other companies, mostly smaller ones (but larger ones as well), use more qualitative methods, such as assigning quality scores depending on different classes of errors that are made in a translation.

This is similar to standardized evaluations that done by the American Translators Association, where translations are judged by humans based on a set number of factors. (Although some people feel that the ATA graders don’t follow enough of a standard metric.)

The problem is that even though these standards are set, the judging of those standards is never black and white. There are always arguments that can and will be made over what is a “true” translation.

While many large organizations (think Dell, Google, etc.) heavily rely on translation quality control and assurance, most freelance translators I know don’t deal with clients that have any quality control mechanism in place.

Most clients don’t take the time to define a process for managing translation quality, and instead rely on the freelancer to provide the best product possible, which the translators often prefer.

This works out most of the time, except when the client feels that they can do the translation work better than the translator and make changes to the translation because of it, even though the translation was perfectly fine to begin with.

International Standards of Translation Quality

One of the methods for determining translation quality is buy using International Standards determined by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization). This organization develops standards for all sorts of things.

Sometimes translators ask about ISO certification as a quality control method for measuring translation quality.

However, the thing to keep in mind about ISO certification (or ISO 9001:2000, as it’s officially called) is that instead of measuring the quality of a translation, it is set up to certify that there is a quality translation process in place.

This is not the same as measuring translation quality.

One measures a process in place for quality control in translation work, while the other would measure the actual quality of the translation.

While there is no easy solution to measuring translation quality, it is important that we as translators do our best to maintain our translation quality, no matter how it’s measured.

While those standards might change depending on who are client is, a good translation for the most part is always going to be a good translation, regardless of how that translation is measured, and the standards it is being measured against.

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