• Sebastian Cron

So, you want to do a sample translation…

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

How can I tell if this new translation vendor is right for us?

Beginning to work with a new translation vendor can be intimidating. After all, once you have a live project in need of translation, turnaround times can be tight and you need to know that you’re getting the best quality translation possible. So, how can you know ahead of time whether this new translation vendor will be able to get the job done? More and more companies are requesting a sample translation prior to starting project work. Although sample translations aren’t always a perfect indicator of true quality, if you have a well-defined process and clear expectations then you should be able to gain some peace of mind prior to translating that first important project.

What is a sample translation and how do I choose my sample?

If you don’t have an upcoming live project anytime soon or if you don’t want to use one to test out a brand-new vendor, you may ask them to complete a sample translation. In an average sample translation, the prospective vendor translates a small amount of text (generally no more than 500-1,000 words) into one or two of your most commonly requested languages. Selecting the right content is important. The tone and style of the English should be a good representation of your company’s standards. Additionally, if your content tends to include a lot of industry-specific terminology, that should be reflected in your sample. After you receive the translation, there are some important things to keep in mind…

What can I expect from a sample translation?

It’s essential to understand what you can (and can’t) learn from a sample translation. Without a doubt, errors in spelling and grammar are a big red flag. But what about other important considerations like tone and style? To get the best idea of the kind of quality you can expect from this prospective vendor, you should treat your sample translation in much the same way that you would a live project. It is important to provide some guidance to your vendor. Previously translated and approved content can be immensely helpful!

Additionally, industry-specific technical terminology (or even company-specific terminology) can be especially challenging to get right the first time. Having a company-approved term base can go a long way toward solving this issue during your sample translation and for many years to come. A sample translation can also give you an overview of the prospective vendor’s translation process. For example, how responsive are they to your initial request? Is the project manager able to answer any questions that you may have throughout the process? How is reviewer feedback handled by the translation vendor?

How should I conduct the review process?

When considering any review process, the most crucial piece is the reviewer! Ideally, your reviewer should be a native speaker of the target language, understand all technical terminology, and have a good understanding of the company’s tone and style. You should also choose the person within your company who has the most experience with the type of content being translated. For example, if your sample content is technical documentation, a bilingual engineer or technical writer might be the best candidate.

Make sure to set some standards around the review process. Having everyone on the same page as to how important criteria will be evaluated is imperative. How should your reviewer measure quality? Are they being compared to your current vendor, or some other standard? What types of issues should they be looking for? Grammar, terminology, consistency, style? Keep in mind that, just as in English, some suggested/proposed changes or revisions may be preferential.

How do I make a final assessment?

The finished review of your sample translation should give you some indication of the type of quality that this vendor will produce. Beyond the absence of spelling or grammatical errors, considerations like tone, style, and choosing the approved terms are always harder to judge and nearly impossible to get right without some guidance from the client. If you provided reference material with your sample content, you should be able to successfully evaluate some of these more complex issues.

Beyond requesting a sample translation, be sure to find out what other quality assurance your translation vendor has in place. Do they have certifications such as ISO 9001:2015 or EN 15038? How do they manage their translator selection process? Can they help you to formalize an internal review process? Do they have a process for continuous improvement? By asking some of these questions, you can get a more complete picture of the vendor’s overall quality management.