Monday, 19 September 2011

Quality for Translators (5 useful tips)

I am delighted to host another guest post on my blog, this time by Karen Sexton. In her post, Karen discusses the importance of quality in translation and gives 5 tips on how to maintain it.
About the author:
Karen Sexton is the owner and quality manager of  EAP English and Portuguese. She also works as a proofreader and editor for several other translation agencies, and she’s specialized in managing translation resources. If your language requirements involve the Portuguese <> English pair, Transliteria is happy to recommend Karen from EAP.

Now, for the post:

There are countless posts and forum discussions online about the issue of quality in the translation business. Nonetheless, because of the distinctive characteristics of this business, that is, the fact that it is largely dominated by freelancers who operate alone or in small groups globally, there aren't many official industry standards known by translators, customers and translation agencies.
In over ten years in the translation business, I’ve created a set of rules that I apply to my own work and require the translators who work with me at to apply as well. I’ve summarized the most important ones into 5 tips. I hope these are helpful to translators who, like me, started on their own and weren’t aware of any best practices; and, more importantly, that they contribute to the high quality content on this blog. I highly recommend reading the posts “Quality or low price?" and “How to translate an idiom”.
Without further ado…

  1. Only accept work that you are capable of doing. This is the golden rule of a solid translation career. Here I don’t mean only translations within your areas of expertise; also make sure you take into account file formats, proofing tools available to you, the time frame for the job, etc. This is a common mistake, particularly among beginner translators, we are eager to work and fear that if we say no to a job we will starve – then we accept a job in advance statistical analysis or something complicated, due in two days, with the source file in pdf…I’ll tell you now, you may deliver a 'passable' translation, but it will involve sleepless nights, hard work, and if the client is not happy, it will cost your career more than a job. However, let me give you a piece of advice, it takes long to build a network of clients, but if you stick to quality principles, they all come back. Very rarely have I had a client who did not need more translations, so repeated business is a big part of your translation career, and the only way you can guarantee that is by only taking on work that you are capable of doing.
  2. Read what you write. I know it sounds obvious, but our minds play tricks on us. I’ll give you a recent example, I was translating a financial PowerPoint presentation about software implementation from Portuguese into English, and I kept translating the word “fila,” which means “queue” as “cue” –which sounds exactly the same, but means something completely different. A mistake like this, will not appear when I run the spell check (see item 3), or any other proofing tool, because they are both words in English, so it takes a human eye to spot it. In my example, I thought "queue" and wrote "cue," and we make these types of mistakes all the time without realizing. Even the most experienced translators, we think we’ve typed words when we haven’t (particularly connectives, such as “and” or “the”), we misspell, and the quicker you do a job, the longer you may need to spend proofreading it. If you think this is too much work for the rate you are being paid, tell your client, or refuse the job. If you accept a job, you should do your best.
  3. Run the spell check. I know, another seemingly obvious tip, but you'd be surprised how many spelling errors are found in translations. And here there’s another tip, always select the whole file and set the language first. If you fail to do so, the spell check may not run through the whole text.
  4. Ensure you’ve translated EVERYTHING that you are supposed to. Firstly, discuss with your clients if they expect you to translate images, headers, footers, etc. This is very important, not only for quoting, but also for quality. If a client asks you to do a project by a certain date, he/she probably won’t be thrilled with your performance if on the agreed date you send them the file with a note to say you haven’t translated the images, for example, because you were unsure whether you were supposed to. This is the first aspect of this item, but there is also the fact that many translators actually skip entire sentences or paragraphs without realizing. Using CAT tools and proofing tools – e.g. TRADOS and XBench, respectively - help you minimize the risk of that, but sometimes a good night sleep and a read through your finished document comparing it to the source may do the trick.
  5. Finally, research! I can't stress this enough, the fact that there is a direct translation to a specific word in your language pair, does not mean that the terms are used in the same way in both cultures. Even names, such as names of companies and people, should not be translated without research. Let's say, for argument sake, that you are translating a text to be added to a company’s website, and the term for one of the products on offer could be translated in two different ways in your language and still make sense. If the previous translator has used “option 1” and you choose "option 2" your translation may be good, but it won't be effective for your client, because they'll have an inconsistent website. Even worse if you translate the name of a company literally, when they actually have a localized name in your language. So, do your job and research –this is the main difference between human and machine translations, we can actually think and make judgments based on more subjective criteria.

If you have any ideas to add to this list, please, feel free to send them to me by commenting to this post or by e-mail through my website


  1. Hello Karen:
    For a moment I thought someone stole my thoughts, for that is precisely the way I have been practicing my profession for the last 12 years. I find if you deliver quality and on time you have your client hooked.
    Nice to know someone else out there thinks the same as I do.

  2. Hi there, good to hear that, quality is indeed the number one variable in our business. Thanks for the commen! :)

  3. Hello! I like this post a lot! I find it very useful! Thanks :)

  4. You're most welcome! Feel free to share the post, perhaps someone else will find it useful too :-)