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Why is there such large variation in the quality delivered by different translation companies? (J)

best quality badgeMany clients are disappointed with the results of their first encounter with a translation company: the output looks like machine translation, the wrong terminology was used, the translation had lots of grammatical errors, and so forth. That short list contains only problems the client can observe when translating into the client’s native language. The problems with meaning will go largely unnoticed to the monolingual client.

In many cases, the translation company has never had a high quality standard forced on it by the market, partially because the client typically cannot judge the quality of the product, or the client values low cost over high quality. This allows many translation companies to turn out substandard output. There are several industry exigencies that allow this type of translation company to survive, which will be the subject of a different blog post.

In this age of globalization, however, there are many more clients than ever who can understand the foreign language and can judge the quality of the translation, and they are expecting that all translation companies are operating on the same understanding that quality translation is not just nice to have but is a marketing imperative. Hence, their disappointment when the translation arrives.

Another problem that beggars belief is that, in Japan, there are some small companies that cannot judge the quality of the translation themselves. These agencies are started by non-translators who see an opportunity to make money in Japan’s lucrative translation industry. Keep in mind that Japan is the world’s third largest economy, has one of the most difficult languages to master, and is the only G7 country that does not “do English.” In other words, Japan is a rich country with a huge demand for translation and few resources to deliver it. As a result, in the past anyone with high-school level English comprehension could call themselves a translator, despite the very poor results.

So, what can a client do to ensure they get what they want?

Here is a short list of questions to ask prospective translation providers.

  1. What is the company’s quality assurance process?
  2. Are the translators native speakers of the translation language?
  3. Do the translators have experience in your industry or field?

If the company does not have solid answers to these questions, beware.

If they do have solid answers, have a two-page document translated (this can be a portion of a larger job), and have the translation confirmed by someone else.

If all is well, then you have found yourself a translation service provider worth keeping.