So, you are a business using a Language Service Provider (LSP) for your translation needs. Great. Some LSPs, or translation agencies as they are also known as, are excellent to work with, some aren’t that great. If you sometimes feel like your brief doesn’t quite make it in the translations, that there’s something wrong, that you’re missing something, or you simply think that this translation thing is just not working out, then this post is for you.
Start by asking your LSP these 3 questions, implement the solutions, and you'll see results.
Question Number 1: Who’s actually translating my content?
Most translation agencies have a team of account managers and a team of project managers. Account Managers are responsible for the client relationships. They are in touch with clients daily and they try to find out what clients need. Project Managers contact freelance translators, assign work, schedule tasks and track projects. PMs also liaise between freelance translators and clients when translators have questions.
Some agencies may have in-house translators but not enough to cover all the work they receive. Most of the agencies contract a huge number of freelance translators and these are the people who do the translation work.
So, the question you should be asking is who is actually translating your text? Is it someone inside the agency? Or is it someone external that the agency has contracted?
Why ask: It’s important to understand the business model and structure based on which your supplier operates. Once you do, you’ll be able to ask the right questions and assign the right contact from within your organisation to be in touch with the agency.
Solve it: There are many ways to understand your LSP’s business model. First of all, you could simply ask your LSP directly. Secondly, you can visit their offices and see their structure for yourself. Meet their staff. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Pay attention to the Terms & Conditions you sign with them. Visit their website to see their criteria for hiring linguists and check out the Terms & Conditions they offer to their suppliers.
Question Number 2: Is the person who’s working on my product or website qualified?
Some agencies mention on their websites the criteria against which they recruit freelance linguists. But how do you really know? Have you seen the linguists’ CVs? Have you met them? Have you interviewed them?
I’m going to reveal a dark industry secret here. Sometimes, agencies bid on tenders and they include in those tenders the best freelance linguists’ CVs they can find. You, as a client, read the tenders and choose the agency of your preference. Once the agency wins the tender, they assign the work to someone else and not to the professional whose profile you saw and approved in the tender. Not every agency does that, but some do.
Why ask: Now that you know the business model on which your LSP operates and who works on your content, it’s important to know their level too. It’s not always about whether they are qualified or experienced, it’s also about whether they are subject matter experts. Say you are a car manufacturer. The translators your agency uses must be experts in technical documents and specifically cars.
Solve it: What you could do is ask the agency to add the translator on a Skype call or meeting. Meet the translators, the people who actually translate your content. You could also request to be sent a couple of samples of their work to choose your perfect match. Then, you can make it part of your contract with the LSP that the LSP only uses the translators you approved.
The agency might ask you to agree that you are not going to give the translators work directly. They may also request that you do not speak to the translators without including the translation agency in the communications. This is something everyone can agree to for the sake of minimising Chinese whispers and getting lost in translation.
If that cannot be agreed, then perhaps you need to question the kind of partnership or professional relationship you have with your LSP. Disagreement on such matters indicates lack of trust.
Question Number 3: What technology do you use?
LSPs and freelance translators (not all of them) use Computer Assisted Translation tools (CATs). No, I don’t mean Google Translate. This is Machine Translation (MT). There is a difference. CAT tools are fed and trained by humans. So is MT you may say. Yes, but, MT doesn't have any human input at the time of processing.
CAT tools recycle previously used content and make sure it is used again for efficiency and consistency purposes. Machine Translation is data-driven. The outcome is not filtered by a human, unless the agency sends the machine translated content to a human translator to post-edit. CAT tools make informed decisions. MT technologies go with the flow.
Why ask: Whatever the technology used, it’s important to know what happens to your content once it’s submitted for translation. Some of these tools hold your content on the cloud. Some tools are entirely run on a server.
Machine Translation engines, such as Google Translate, have the right to publish, index and recycle your content online.
If your content is not confidential and you’re OK with Google owning it, then no problem. But, if you’re concerned about your intellectual property, then ask your LSP about the translation technologies they use and where they are hosted.
Solve it: Read the Terms & Conditions you sign carefully, especially the confidentiality and copyright clauses. If your contract does not mention technologies, query that with your LSP. If your LSP uses MT, then ask them not to, unless you’re OK with it and you want them to use MT.
In any case, tell your LSP that you know about translation technologies. You could even ask for a demo to understand more. If you are not confident to have this conversation yourself because you don't know enough about translation technologies or the translation industry, you can hire a consultant who can have the difficult conversation for you.
Your relationship with your translation agency should be direct, open and transparent. Misunderstandings and assumptions lead to prolonged translation cycles, unhappy customers, product release dates that are far into the future and an expensive bill at the end of it all.
There are more questions to ask, but including all of them would make this a much longer post. If you liked this post, make sure to come back because I've got a few more like this one in the works.
Vasiliki is a Consultant, Chartered Linguist, Translator, Interpreter and founder of Greek to Me Translations, a company that helps businesses communicate their brand, products and messages to their target audience. She can help your organisation achieve a global presence by implementing a translation process that works, using translation technologies and best practices. She believes that translation strategy, when well-embedded within the overall business strategy, delivers not only words but vision. Find out more about how she can help you or get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your translation process and any challenges you have.