The quality dilemma and some tips for translation buyers

The Quality Dilemma_

OK, you need a translation into Portuguese, but you do not speak Portuguese. How do you go about it?

– Well, I will look up providers online, ask someone I know, get some quotes…

– Yes, but how will you determine whether you are getting a good translation if you do not speak the language?

– I guess I have to trust the provider.

This is a conversation I was having with a friend this week who is not from the translation industry. It turns out that the conclusion she came to, i.e. you just have to trust the provider, is the same conclusion that most translation buyers come to. Another common thing that happens is asking someone who speaks the language, but is not a professional translator, to take a look at the translation. What is the problem with those approaches?

You will never know for sure…

First, you cannot just trust someone’s stated or real credentials. I have recently begun a process of selecting a team of highly skilled Portuguese <> English translators to work with me at EAP. I have received hundreds of CVs, selected about 30 or so who had impressive stated and proven experience and, so far, I am about halfway through, I have a 50% approval rate. I am an experienced reviewer, which means I do pick up on more things than your average reader would, but still you cannot trust a 50% chance of your translation being right.

My test is an exert from a clinical trial report, which is standard for a medical translator. Brazilians are not native speakers of English and many grammatical constructions in English are very difficult for us, especially when they involve long sentences with several adjectives, etc. Now let us imagine that a Physician is reading a clinical trial report in English and finds himself unsure about a sentence on adverse events. So he looks for the translation, and in 50% of the cases, finds a misleading or partially correct translation. The potentially serious implications of this are obvious.

In the second approach, if you ask someone who happens to speak Portuguese to check the translation out for you, you may get an inaccurate assessment. Would you trust someone who is not in the healthcare industry to write your clinical trial report in your own language? Probably not, because that person is not familiar with the style and terminology used in the healthcare industry. The same goes for any other language, if someone just happens to speak that language, it does not qualify this person to write extremely technical and sensitive documentation in that language.

There is one third approach that some companies use, which is back translating. Back translating is getting a different translator to translate the text back into your source language. I will not go into details on that, because I have mentioned this before in my posts, but basically if your back translation says word for word what your source says, it is probably wrong. The reason for that is that, in order to translate meaning into another language, you often have to change the wording. Back translation can help iron out a few issues, but will not guarantee a quality result.

In many instances, when translation buyers are faced with this dilemma, they lose interest. They just go with a quote that fits their budget and hope for the best, because they won’t know anyway unless there is a very obvious error. But think about how much time and effort has gone into writing your original copy? You probably employed specialist writers, edited and revised your copy several times…Why would you then waste that effort on your foreign audience by presenting them with a poor translation?

In short, quality is essential to your success, you know that when you write your copy, and you need a method for ensuring that your translations reflect that quality.

How do you do that?

  1. Look for a provider who is looking to partner with you.

First, you should look for a provider with good credentials and a good track record, but you should not trust that alone.

In addition to looking good on paper, when you ask for a quote, look for signs that the provider is willing to revise the translation, will be available for questions, and seems as invested as you are in ensuring the final quality of the product. For example, a provider who is upfront with you about a deadline being too tight for a quality job, or the price being too low to pay for a reviewer, or who asks you questions about the nature of the job and other terminology management issues, e.g. are there any terms not to be translated? These are signs that the provider is invested and takes pride in the final result, which means he/she will work with you.

  1. Get feedback from your target audience.

The best people to tell you whether a translation is clear and resonates with them is your target audience. If you cannot do that before the translation goes out, make sure you do it after so that you at least have some feedback on that provider for future projects, and you can mitigate the impact of a bad translation, if it turns out so.

For example, if you had a market research questionnaire translated, ask your moderator about how clear the questions are to him/her. If your moderator is unsure about some questions, go back to your translator and ask him/her to find a way of saying that more clearly.

Also, if your translation is a website, then use a popup quick survey. If you had a clinical trial report translated for your medical audience, get your sales reps to ask physicians for feedback on particularly technical areas of that report, or ask your sales reps how well they understand the translated report.

There are many ways in which you can implement a feedback mechanism for your translated documents and this can go a along way into building a trusting relationship, both with your target audience and your translation provider.

  1. Take the feedback back to your provider and see how he/she works with you to implement it.

When you get feedback from your target audience, your translation provider should be willing to comment on that feedback and discuss with you what changes are/are not appropriate. Ultimately, your provider must be flexible enough to accommodate the changes that you deem appropriate and work with you to make them work linguistically.

If you are a translation buyer, you should always have in mind that your efforts in your field are only as good as you can communicate them. When you work across cultures, this applies to your translations as well.

At EAP, we will work with you, we do our utmost to ensure that your tone and message are conveyed seamlessly, because, for us, we only succeed when you do. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you communicate with your medical audiences across borders.

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