Quality management for translations: how you can contribute to successful localization

Laura Mangels
A.C.T. GmbH


Qualitätsmanagement bei Übersetzungen | Sprachdientsleister | Qualität | Zertifizierung | Quality management translations | Language service providers |Quality | Certification | ACT

How do you define a high-quality translation? It’s a tricky question. After all, how can you evaluate the quality of a translation into a language you don’t understand? Read on to learn about quality management for translations.

Has your company ever hired the services of a translation provider? Then the texts on your website, your app, or your internal documents are now probably in more than one language. English and French, Chinese and Hindi. So far, so good. But did the quality of the localization impress you and your customers in a new market? And how can you actually check this quality? Ultimately, we’re guessing that you are probably not fluent in every target language, otherwise, you wouldn’t have hired an external service provider. Quality management as it applies to translations is a complex field. However, if you stick to a few basic rules, you will be able to trust in the quality of your translations.

First of all, you must define what quality means for you. It sounds like a simple question. Of course, linguistic and grammar mistakes as well as poor syntax should be avoided but those who are content with correct spelling alone are setting their expectations very low. Translation quality has many different dimensions—just like language itself.

Pitfalls and safety nets

Formally correct language is one thing but cultural idiosyncrasies are another thing entirely. One only has to think of our immediate geographical neighbors and whether people in Germany can understand every word spoken in Austria. For instance, what Germans call “Tomaten” (tomatoes) are known as “Paradeiser” in Austria. Conversely, certain “Federal German” words are not particularly popular in the Alpine republic. For example, Austrians may find an ad containing the word “lecker” (yummy”) to describe your product from the frozen food aisle hard to swallow. And yet all of this is somehow defined as “German”. If your company operates in countries beyond the DACH region and its languages, it will need translation service providers with a detailed knowledge of the relevant target market.

Perhaps your industry also has particular requirements in the area of compliance? External services such as translations must be carried out in compliance with the GDPR, which is also another dimension of quality. As is the way in which you are dealt with as a customer. Good translation service providers will assign a dedicated contact person who will support your company throughout the working relationship, offer professional advice, and work with you to achieve the best possible end result.

Quality management from the get-go

This is precisely where the key to effective quality management lies for both sides. Communication between you and your translation service provider. It kicks off with an extensive briefing at the start of the working relationship. Discussions with the client allow all project stakeholders to identify the tonality required in the new target market. Share your thoughts and ideas with them. A professional translation service provider, in turn, will draw your attention to potential stumbling blocks in the particular target market. These can include adhering to specific legal standards, having a brand name that could be interpreted as an affront due to cultural idiosyncrasies, or simply making the correct choice between formal and informal modes of address.

Continuous feedback, for example, provided during regular meetings—either in person or virtual—will help continuously improve quality. These types of standardized quality management processes will protect your company against translation fails and guarantee results that meet your expectations and requirements.

EN ISO 17100

But let’s return to the potential dilemma you face if you speak neither Finnish nor Vietnamese—which can definitely hamper your efforts to check quality yourself. Are you happy to take your contact person’s word that the translation meets the highest quality standards? If not, you can look for ISO-certified translation service providers, or make this a condition of your tender. The ISO 17100:2015 quality standard—a certification procedure that examines the requirements applicable to translation services—specifies the dual-control principle as a key quality assurance tool, for example. This means that translations must always be checked and evaluated by a second native speaker who has relevant professional expertise.

Translation memory systems are another facet of quality assurance. These systems store all previously translated text segments, thereby ensuring a high degree of consistency in all future translations. However, working with the same service provider in the long term is a decisive advantage as it allows you to benefit fully from these memory systems.

Communication for quality

Let’s summarize what we’ve covered so far: Be aware of your criteria for a high-quality translation, and communicate your standards. Whether you are having your products translated into two, three, or seventeen languages, your translation service provider can only deliver acceptable results if they understand your requirements. Relevant certifications ensure that you are doubly protected—guaranteeing that you will be impressed with the quality of the final result.

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