My golden rules for quality assurance
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In the highly competitive global translation market quality may be the main differentiator - a factor that makes the difference between success and failure.
Quality assurance (QA) in translation may be defined as the act of maintaining translation services to ensure conformance to customer requirements or other specifications. QA is implemented by the translation service provider. Don't confuse QA with QC, which is implemented by your customer after the translation is completed and delivered.
Below I suggest some methods that help me to meet the quality requirements of the most demanding customers from various countries and areas of business, both translation agencies and direct customers, such as Ford Motor, Volvo Cars, Philips and more.
1. Accept jobs only within your areas of knowledge/specialization and translate only into your native language.
Some customers try to make you accept a job before you see the source text. This is a very wrong approach. In such cases I always respond that I need to see the source text to determine whether it is within my areas of knowledge.
This is also applicable to editing jobs. I often receive Russian translations for editing and see that the target text is so poor that it can't be improved by editing. It is easier to translate the source text from scratch than to edit. If you accept such a job before seeing the translation, you will actually have to translate it from scratch at much lower editing rates.
Even though my customers say that my English is "near native", in most cases I do not accept texts to be translated from Russian into English. In rare cases when I have to help out my long term customers, I do translate into English, but in such cases I always hire a native US or UK editor for proofreading.
2. Always use TM software such as Trados, Wordfast or SDLX to avoid omissions and eye mistakes.
Besides using the main TM function (leverage of your old translations), such software breaks the source text into segments (usually sentences), so you will never miss a sentence or paragraph, which is a rather common mistake. If a sentence contains untranslatable parts (numbers, codes, trademarks, company names, designations etc), use Alt+Ins to copy the source segment into the target text box and overwrite the translatable parts only. Alternatively, you may use the buttons to copy the untranslatable elements into the target segment.
However, the TM software has an inherent defect - the segmentation makes you perceive the text as a sequence of individual sentences. At each step you are a bit out of context. Therefore it is necessary to proofread the cleaned-up target language text in MS Word - to improve the integrity and wholeness of the translation. The result is a smoother text with consecutive sentences stitched to each other. This is important not only for creative translation - e.g. ads, but for other types of translation too.
3. Never hesitate to contact your customer for clarifications.
Some source texts are sloppy, contain mistakes, an overly short-hand style, omissions, and sometimes the author means one thing and writes quite another. As they said in the Soviet Union: Ãîâîðèì "ïàðòèÿ" - ïîäðàçóìåâàåì "Ëåíèí" (We say the Party - and we mean Lenin). Without clarifications of such parts your translation will be as poor as the source text. When I hire another translator to make a complex job for me, and he does not ask any questions, this cocks me.
4. Co-operate with another good translator - hire him/her for second proofreading.
As the Russian saying goes, one head is good, but two are better. You can provide the same service to your colleague in return - this is a win-win solution.
5. To ensure the use of corporate-specific terminology, use references materials and specialists/consultants from the local representative office which will use your translation.
When a French translation agency asked me to translate a Philips mobile phone manual, I got the agency’s permission and contacted the Moscow Philips office for reference materials, terminology and consultation. This was important because all Russian representative offices and dealers of western mobile phone manufacturers use various terminology. The TM and glossary created as a result of this initial consultation have helped me to translate Philips manuals since 2000.
6. Know the target audience of each translation project and translate for this audience.
When you translate into Russian (or any other language), you need to know where your target audience (potential readers) reside. This info determines the terminology you should use. Several years ago my long-term customer, CPLI (NY, USA), asked me to change my translation of the term "library card" from "÷èòàòåëüñêèé áèëåò" to "áèáëèîòå÷íàÿ êàðòî÷êà". I was sure that my initial version - "÷èòàòåëüñêèé áèëåò" - was correct. I took one of several "library cards" given to me by various Moscow libraries, scanned it and sent the picture to the CPLI manager to prove that my translation was OK. However, the manager explained that this translation was meant for NY-based Russians (this info was not provided to me beforehand), who had got used to the literal translation - "áèáëèîòå÷íàÿ êàðòî÷êà". I had no other choice than to agree that the use of the Brighton-Beach-Russian term (even if it differs from the term used all over Russia) is absolutely appropriate in this situation.
Another example is associated with my translation work for the Moscow offices of Ford Motor and Volvo Cars. Some documents are translated for existing and potential car owners (catalogs, ad materials, corporate magazines), some for journalists (new releases), some for local mechanics from service departments (service manuals), some for dealership employees (marketing instructions), and some for representative office employees (business instructions). My objective is to facilitate the understanding of translations by these very different groups. To achieve this, I try to learn and use the terminology which is most familiar to these categories of readers. For example, the representative office employees say "àïðóâèòü" instead of îäîáðèòü/óòâåðäèòü, "ïðîñïåêòû" instead of "ïîòåíöèàëüíûå ïîêóïàòåëè", "êîììóíèöèðîâàòü" instead of "ñîîáùèòü" etc. This reflects the aggressive influence of the English language on Russian business language. Of course, I can't use the above "Russian language" when I translate for servicemen or car owners or even journalists.
Sometimes even the brand itself determines the language register. When translating Volvo catalogs, I prefer to use a language register that I call "Nordic" - a bit reserved, full of dignity, with Hemingway's undercurrent. As if the brand does not need to shout about how good it is. I prefer just to intrigue a reader and stimulate his/her imagination. However, when I translate news releases for Kia, which is a relatively young and aggressively developing brand - "exciting and enabling" - I try to use a more emotional teasing style. I also take into consideration that Kia news releases’ target audience is different from that of Volvo catalogs.
Terminology mini-surveys are very helpful when you need to choose a correct project-specific language register. When I delivered a completed localization project to my US customer - a translation agency, managed by a US-based Russian lady, - she asked me to change some frequently used terms - see column 1 in the below table. To prove that the terminology used by me was appropriate for this particular localization project, I found 5 Moscow-based Russian persons who belonged to the target audience of this translation (pro PC users/experts) and asked them to offer Russian equivalents which were typically used by them. The results are shown in the table below.
Russian terms used by various categories of PC users
0 1 2 3
Terms offered by my Russian US-based customer Terms used by advanced PC users in Russia (non-pro) Terms used by young people and professional PC users/experts in Russia (number of hits in Google - in parenthesis)
Content Ñîäåðæàíèå Êîíòåíò Êîíòåíò (966 000)
Reproduce Âîñïðîèçâîäèòü Ðåïðîäóöèðîâàòü Ðåïðîäóöèðîâàòü (35 000)
Click Íàæìèòå Ùåëêíèòå Êëèêíèòå (!) 1 900 000
Screen shot Êîïèÿ ýêðàíà Ñêðèíøîò Ñêðèíøîò (627 000)
The results of the survey reflect the aggressive invasion of transliterated English terminology in the current Russian language used by professional PC users. I sent the results of the survey to my customer, and she agreed to preserve my initial terminology (column 3).
7. Understand clearly the objectives of each translation project.
You need to understand what this or that text is meant for, i.e. what task it will fulfill. Some texts are designed just to inform the target audience about something, some texts (ad copies) stimulate the desire to buy a service or product, some (PR texts) are designed to create or improve brand identity, some (manuals) to help users operate a device. Your translation must be "honed" to fulfill the particular task most efficiently. This determines the language register that should be used.
8. Arrange close and direct co-operation with the end customer specialists.
Some translation agencies do not allow the translators to contact directly end customer specialists for clarifications and terminology. These agencies are afraid that next time the customer may contact the translator directly, not via the agency, and the agency will lose a part of its business. IMHO opinion, this fear is unreasonable, because translators usually sign a non-compete agreement safeguarding the agency's business. The best way to keep your business is to provide top quality translation, and in many cases this is possible only through close and direct co-operation of the linguist and end customer specialists.
Two year ago a well-known Belgian translation agency sent me a big project – the translation of 3 Alpine car audio catalogs from English into Russian. To use correct company specific terminology, I contacted the Moscow Alpine office, whose expert (just imagine - my alumni) was very friendly and helpful. I used the terminology provided by him and delivered my translation to the Belgian agency. Some days later I received my translation back after it was edited by another freelance translator hired by the agency. I noticed that the editor had changed the corporate specific Alpine terminology and added quite a number of spelling mistakes. Then the agency sent the "edited" translation to the end customer - Alpine. Later I found out that the Moscow Alpine office had to re-work the edited translation to restore the company specific terminology used by me initially.
Next year I explained this absurd situation and asked the agency to 1) eliminate the "editing" and 2) permit me to hire the local Alpine expert to proofread my translation at my expense. I received the permission, and the job was completed to the complete satisfaction of all parties concerned (except maybe the editor, who lost the assignment). The by-product of this approach - we created a TM and project glossary, which will be very useful for the translation of next year’s catalogs.
9. Use "test readers" representing the target audience of your translation
The price of mistakes in medical translation may be very high. This is why special expensive QA methods such as back-translation and the use of test-readers may be justified in this area.
This year I translated a medical questionnaire created by a well-known pharmaceutical company. The questionnaire was designed for patients with urinary incontinence. The budget was rather high, and first of all I hired a medical translator, MD, who created his own translation independently of me. Then we met and created a reconciled version. MD’s input was correct medical terminology and mine was readability and smooth easily understood Russian.
Then I went to a Moscow clinic, found a urologist and asked him to help me contact 5 patients with this disease (typical representatives of the project specific target audience) to proofread our reconciled translation. On the next day, I met these patients and asked them to provide their comments regarding readability and easiness/correctness of understanding. I checked that they understood each item of the questionnaire correctly. They also confirmed that the translation reads not like a translation but like a document originally written in the Russian language. As a result of this approach, when my translation was proofread by a specialist from the customer's Russian office, he suggested no revisions.
Remember that you translate not for the translation manager or editor or proofreader - you translate for your target audience. This audience has the last word on whether you are good at your job or not, and it is the target audience that pays for your work in the final analysis.
I call these rules golden because my first hand experience shows that nothing improves the translator's bottom line as effectively as the high quality of his/her translation services.