E.g., 10/03/2023
E.g., 10/03/2023
Practitioner's Corner: Tips for Ensuring Translation Quality

Practitioner's Corner: Tips for Ensuring Translation Quality

By Kleber Palma

Organizations working with limited English proficient (LEP) populations need to obtain proper translated materials in order to provide fair and accurate services. Many government agencies hire independent contractors in order to save time and money. However, discerning whether the services being contracted out are of an acceptable quality can be tricky. An outsider may know the targeted foreign languages your community needs, but not necessarily the terminology of the business being conducted. It can also be difficult for organizations to ensure that all documents translated by a contractor remain consistent with one another, since translation companies use a wide range of freelancers all over the world to do the actual work. Lastly, it goes without saying that avoiding gross errors and omissions is a strict requirement of all who provide this much needed service.

In addressing these issues, I have found that the following strategies are an effective way for organizations to help ensure translation quality:

Quality Assurance with Contractors Begins during the Request for Proposal (RFP) Process

  • Potential bidders should be required to commit to an adequate quality control process for all deliverables. Specifically, this should include a process where multiple linguists review all translations before delivery.
  • Contractors should detail their (and their independent contractors’) capabilities with translation memory software. Translation memory software helps ensure quality through consistency. When doing so, they should also include the discounted prices in their final proposal that would result from using the translation memory software.
  • The RFP should include a section on how to recover damages when translation errors occur, particularly for documents that are professionally printed or produced in mass quantities.
  • If dealing with multiple contractors, consider evaluating the contractors’ performance in order to produce a ranking order that would lead to more business in a predetermined and subsequent period of time. This keeps contractors on their toes.

Internal Strategies That Will Help the Cause

  • Establish bilingual glossaries of key terms and a style guide for each language.  This may be done with bilingual staff familiar with the organization’s jargon. In some cases, contractors may create these tools, or they can be done through a combination of both contractors and internal staff to obtain consensus. Going through this drill will help ensure consistency, regardless of who translated the document, and will minimize criticism of the translations.
  • Include an identification tag on all translated documents (e.g., on the footer) to help distinguish the translations that have been produced through an established process with those that may have been produced by another office/division within your organization or by an outside party. This could help identify translations that may not have any quality checks in place or use pre-approved terminology. [click here for a sample]
  • Create guidelines to follow in the event a third-party reviewer provides solicited (or unsolicited) feedback on a translation. This may include, but is not limited to:
    • Requiring usage of established glossary and style guide
    • Reminding reviewers to have a copy of the source document (i.e. English document)
    • Prohibiting any stylistic changes
    • Ensuring that the reviewer only focus on true errors and omissions

Be prepared to provide contractors with appropriate guidance and direction, instead of simply criticism. Contractors need to hear what they are doing wrong – and right – so that they learn your preferences and apply them on future jobs.

Kleber Palma serves as the Director of the New York City Department of Education's Translation and Interpretation Unit, which he established in 2004. The unit is responsible for providing translation and interpretation support to more than 1,400 schools that serve a highly diverse student population of over 1.1 million. Prior to assuming this role, Mr. Palma was the Director of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Translations Unit (the second-largest school system in the country), a Language Specialist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation , and a Translation Services Manager for a private firm in California. Mr. Palma has also had years of experience as a freelance Spanish translator and is the Managing Director of Palma Communications, a language access consulting firm. He holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California and an MBA from California State University, Los Angeles.