Posted by: patenttranslator | October 23, 2013

Seven Completely Insane “Translation Quality Assurance” Notions

All of these insane notions are very popular concepts often touted in the marketing propaganda easily found on the websites of many translation agencies. All I had to do to find them in order write this blog post was to put a few variations of the keywords “we guarantee translation quality” into Google and a few other search engines, and then pick seven really ridiculous concepts.

Totally Insane Idea No. 1: We use our own time- and manpower-saving Aallocation algorithm@ to select the best translator for the job.

The allocation algorithm is a relatively new really crazy idea that is used by some translation agencies to query an internal database to select a translator instead of relying on a fallible human being (since machines armed with algorithms are infallible), namely somebody who in fact understands the foreign language and the relevant subject to select the best translator for the job.

It works about as well as algorithms used by machine translation software, or algorithms used by the NSA or GCHQ to catch Evil Terrorists hiding among millions of innocents citizens caught in their database.

Caution: Results may vary!

Totally Insane Idea No. 2: We are having all of our translations edited and revised by 2 ~ 7 layers of quality checkers.

Many translation agencies claim on their websites that they use multiple layers of editors and quality checkers ensuring Astrict quality control@ in order to Afind and eliminate misinterpretations, terminology errors, grammar and spelling mistakes, monitor terminology consistency, text readability, sentence structure”, etc.

A good editor will be able to find and fix a typo or two in a good translation, which is the extent of editing that is required to proofread a good translation.

But even the best translation, delivered on time by an expert translator, will be invariably butchered beyond recognition by the application of this insane idea.

Totally Insane Idea No. 3: We are offering translations at 2 or more levels of quality.

Two quality levels are usually offered in this manner: AStandard quality translations@, which are relatively cheap, and Acertified translations performed by highly experienced expert translators@, which will cost about 50% more.

This would be like a restaurant offering 2 types of meals on the menu to its customers:

1. Tasteless, crappy, but cheap meals, slapped together by nearly blind cooks whose taste buds have been compromised by a mysterious disease from questionable and potentially unsafe ingredients.

2. Meals that actually taste the way they are supposed to taste because the chef knows his stuff and uses only the best ingredients for his meals.

My suggestion for a third level of meals at 3rd level of quality offered in such a restaurant would be:

3. Meals guaranteed to kill customers who will be dying in excruciating pain, which would be roughly equivalent to using machine translation for crucially important documents.

Totally Insane Idea No. 4: The quality of our translations is guaranteed because our translation agency is ISO-certified.

The abbreviation ISO means “International Standards Organization”.

We need to have internationally applicable and enforceable standards for example for exchange of files over the Internet, because otherwise we simply would not be able to exchange files, or for manufacturing of medications, or for standardized performance of robots on an assembly belt.

But only a recent escapee from a lunatic asylum, or a translation agency marketing specialist could claim with a straight face that such a standard can be used as method guaranteeing a high quality of translation.

Translation is a very complicated mental process, and the fact is that there is really not that much that we know about complicated mental processes. To believe that a method that works when applied to manufacturing of auto parts will also work when applied to translation is to me a sign of insanity.

There is only one method that will (sometime, but not always) guarantee a high quality of translation: using the best translator available, an experienced translator, who specializes in a given field and who is not exactly cheap.

Totally Insane Idea No. 5: The quality of our translations is guaranteed because we use translation memory tools such as Trados for all of our translations.

Computer assisted translation tools (CATs) are very useful for some types of translations, but they are for the most part completely useless and could cause a lot of damage with other types of translation.

CATs are excellent tools when translators use them for example for frequent upgrades of communication software or printer manuals. Since only a relatively small part of the text needs to be translated, the software tool can be used to quickly identify parts that can be copied and pasted, and when used properly, to facilitate the use of consistent terminology.

But to insist that these tools should be applied to every type of translation, including for example financial translation, patent translation, or translation of novels, is simply insane.

Totally Insane Idea No. 6: Instead of translators, we use doctors, lawyers, and other specialists in their particular field to ensure the unparalleled quality of our translations.

A really competent doctor or lawyer can easily be a really incompetent translator. Just because somebody is a specialist with an advanced degree in a certain field does not mean that this person is also a good translator.

(In these cases, I always ask myself, since translation does not really pay that much, why is this highly qualified specialist translating instead of doing whatever it is that he is so highly and eminently specialized in)?

This month, for example, I worked on an interesting translation project: a patent application translated from English into another language was rejected by a national patent office because one crucial word in it was mistranslated by a highly qualified bilingual patent lawyer who simply missed the implications of the word in the translation.

The company filing the patent application had to submit an opinion by a qualified translator specializing in this field explaining why the term was in his opinion used incorrectly, and the company will now have to spend a lot of money on legal fees and on a new translation due to a rather unfortunate use of a single word …. by somebody who may be an expert in his field, but not really a translator.

Totally Insane Idea No. 7: We can deliver perfect translations on any subject from and into every language because we have thousands of highly qualified translators in our vast database of translators.

It is quite possible that a translation agency advertising this infantile notion on its website has a few, or perhaps quite a few highly qualified translators in its “vast database of translators”.

But if there really are thousands of really good translators in the database, the generally underpaid and overworked project managers working for the agency would have no idea which of them are really good, and which ones are mediocre to horrible.

A translation agency that specializes only in a few fields and generally works only with a limited number of translators who really are both highly educated and highly experienced, and who translate only subjects that they are actually able to understand, is likely to deliver (most of the time) very good service.

An agency that proudly claims that it is working with thousands of highly educated and experienced translators is probably delivering garbage most of the time, because the real reason why there are so many translators in the agency’s database is so that the agency could keep selecting the cheaper ones among the thousands of hungry warm bodies in the database.

A huge database with thousands of translators competing with each other is a very good idea if the main purpose is to maximize the profit for the agent, but definitely not a good idea if the goal is to guarantee quality.

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Responses

  1. […] All of these insane notions are often touted in the marketing propaganda easily found on the websites of many translation agencies. All I had to do to write this blog post was to put a few variatio…  […]

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  2. In Australia, we have an expression that aptly describes why these hucksters do it: “A little bit of b*llsh*t goes long way!”

    Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop the hucksters from dissembling in this way, and let’s face it, our leaders are not exactly setting a fine example for anyone to follow.

    “All it takes for evil to triumph, is for good men and women to look the other way”, (or being so ignorant, careless or conditioned by their environment, that they do not recognise the evil being perpetrated around them).

    Like

  3. Hucksters are not evil. They just need to sell stuff, that’s all.

    Who knows, maybe they are the new salt of the earth, while the earth is still here, before it is sold right under our feet.

    They are what they are and the way they see it, everybody else is just like them too, or ought to be in any case.

    When truth is whatever you want it to be, the difference between truth and lies is kind of a naive, redundant and really old fashioned concept that simply does not belong into our modern world.

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  4. >(In these cases, I always ask myself, since translation does not really pay >that much, why is this highly qualified specialist translating instead of doing >whatever it is that he is so highly and eminently specialized in)?

    Good question. Some possible answers:

    1) translating is an enjoyable activity, pure intellect.
    2) flexible working practices easier to establish in translation than full on medical or legal practice, enabling
    3) fulfilment of family commitments, remote working, side ambitions, literary fantasies, retirement activity.

    The joke:

    Q. What’s the best way to make a small fortune at translation?
    A. Start with a large one.

    also comes to mind…

    😉

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  5. “… flexible working practices easier to establish in translation than full on medical or legal practice” …

    Could it be that if it is difficult for them to become established professionals in their own field, perhaps they are not so highly qualified?

    In other words, the translating profession opens with open arms rejects from other fields.

    We are all rejects, and damn proud of it too!

    Rejects from all countries and professions, come and join us!

    Like

  6. Ah, Steve, another scene from Before Sunrise and exactly the one I like most with the poet at Donaukanal.

    BTW, your reply to Louis reminds me of the song text of One Tin Soldier:

    “Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
    Go ahead and cheat a friend.
    Do it in the name of Heaven,
    You can justify it in the end.
    There won’t be any trumpets blowing
    Come the judgement day,
    On the bloody morning after….
    One tin soldier rides away.”

    Hucksters are indeed not evil. They just need to sell stuff, AS we need to do from time to time, even when we are retired.

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  7. “…. even when we are retired.”

    We will never be able to truly retire.

    I just answered a question about the meaning of a certain foreign abbreviation an 82-year translator who lives with his wife in an assisted living home because they can’t take care anymore even of simple things like grocery shopping and cooking.

    Living in such a facility is not exactly cheap. But fortunately, he can still translate.

    Working until I drop dead is the only “safety net” that will be left to me if the present two-party system is still in place in this country when I am his age, if I am lucky (or unlucky?) to live that long.

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    • Well, the 82-year old translator may consider himself semi-retired, AS both of us do.

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  8. To add to Totally Insane Idea No. 5: The quality of our translations is guaranteed because we use translation memory tools such as Trados for all of our translations: These tools are, well, tools; they don’t to the work, they are just an aid. In other words, they are there to assist the professional; it is not the professional who is there to assist them.

    And to add to Totally Insane Idea No. 4: The quality of our translations is guaranteed because our translation agency is ISO-certified: It is not specific to the language-services market, but quite often organizations get certified for a specific aspect of their operation (e.g. administration) – a certificate that may or may not be completely irrelevant to the service/product that they offer – but they still declare being certified as if there is as single universal certification.

    The hucksters at large will continue to attempt to plant these notion and minimize the role and significant of the human element in their clever and automated fail-proof process. For example, to justify their technology some in the MT lobby work very hard to plant the notion that translation is always flawed because it is just a translation and should not be expected to be completely fluent because this is just a ridiculous and impossible goal and notion. The problem only starts (and started) when not only naive or irresponsible client subscribe to this nonsense, but when translators (true translators) start buying into these FUD and propaganda. Sadly, not so few do.
    Translators seem to have a collective Stockholm Syndrome.

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  9. @Shai

    Very good points, all of them.

    Like

  10. […] samples? Reel in the right vendor Why You Finally Need to Hire a Professional Translation Company Seven Completely Insane “Translation Quality Assurance” Notions When there are 3 of us on a project and only 2 CAT tool licenses Foreign Rights: An Issue Unclear […]

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  11. […] All of these insane notions are very popular concepts often touted in the marketing propaganda easily found on the websites of many translation agencies. All I had to do to find them in order write…  […]

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