Modern translation industry has recently perfected production of translations in high volumes and at a high level of quality by using cutting-edge language technology combined with innovative, future-oriented management methods in ways that were simply unimaginable only a few short years ago.
In the old days, the emphasis in translation and related activities was unfortunately completely misplaced. Before the advent of modern translation industry methods and tools, it was erroneously thought that translation quality depended mostly on the translator.
If the translator was a highly qualified specialist who was skilled in a certain type of translation, let’s say that this was a highly educated translator, translating from a language that she knew almost as well as her native language, and also a superbly gifted writer in her native language and an expert in a given field, the assumption was that the quality of the resulting translation would be not bad on a bad day, and excellent on a good day.
On the other hand, if the translator was not very good, let’s say that this was an inexperienced translator translating from a language that he did not know very much into a language that he did not really know all that well either, and on a top of that translating in a field that was still more or less a mystery to this translator, the assumption was that there was no way that the resulting translation could possibly be anything else but a total disaster.
But that was then, and this is now. The modern translation industry found new technological tools and organizational methods that solved the vexing problem of poor translations which used to be frequently generated by incompetent people calling themselves translators in the past, before these new, innovative and truly revolutionary tools were developed and adopted in the modern translation industry.
Thankfully, since these tools and methods are often advertised on the websites of translation agencies, we know what they are. However, we rarely stop to think about them as they already became a natural, integral part of the translation process in the translation industry. That is why I decided to write one of my last posts in 2014 as an homage to modern technology and management methods and to the manner in which this leading-edge technology and these revolutionary methods are applied to ensure quality in modern translation industry, also called language industry.
So what are these tools? I will attempt to identify only a few of the most important, indispensable tools and methods that are used today by the translation industry to ensure that the resulting translation will be always available at the highest possible level of quality.
1. Translation Quality Standards such as ISO 9001 or EN15038 Guarantee a High Level of Quality
These translation quality standards were developed for and by translation agencies based on methods originally developed for industrial manufacturing processes and for the service industry.
To give just one example, in the hotel industry, specialized inspectors pretending to be regular guests visit hotels to check the cleanliness of bed sheets, or look for bedbugs, grime in the shower and bathtub, dust under the bed, etc. If there are no problems in these areas and the personnel is polite, competent and speaks several languages (in the better hotels), the quality of the services provided by such a hotel can be certified as excellent.
The same method can be obviously applied also to translation quality when specialized translation quality inspectors are dispatched to audit and certify translation agencies to make sure that the agencies have in place fully documented policies and procedures that were skillfully developed for and by the translation industry to ensure excellent quality of every translation, as long as the translation was managed in strict compliance with these Translation Quality Standards.
There are naturally some differences between looking for bedbugs or dust under the bed, and looking for problems in a translations, because unfortunately, translation problems are not as easy to detect as grime in the shower, or dust under the bed. In fact, one could say that they are about as easy to detect as bedbugs at night with the lights off.
That is why modern Translation Quality Standards, such as ISO 9001 or EN15038, have been developed by the translation industry so that they are not really directed toward translations as such. Instead, objective procedural steps are taken into account only with respect to the methods that are used to process translations – for example how many people should be involved at every stage of the translating and proofreading process. If the compliance with these objective procedural steps is there, the translation agency can be certified as a competent and highly responsible business entity, regardless of whether the translator who was in fact used by this translation agency was really any good, because such a determination would be obviously highly subjective and therefore unreliable.
This major achievement, which puts emphasis on objective evaluation of the correctness of the methods that are used, is made possible by application of modern quality control and management methods in the translation industry, which is also part of the services industry.
2. Multiple Layers of Quality Control Are Implemented by Multiple Translators and Other Experts
Although every newspaper article or book needs to be proofread by an editor, the fact that we often find typos and grammatical errors and sometime also factual mistakes in published articles or even in books clearly shows that 3, 4, or 5 editors are better than just one. That is why translation agencies often apply 3, 4 or 5 levels of proofreading and quality checking to every translation that is processed by them. At least that is what they say on their websites, although it is not quite clear how these numerous quality checkers and proofreaders are paid.
But clearly, the modern translation industry cares very much about the quality of the final product. If they say that every translation is checked by 3, 4 or more translators and subject-qualified experts in 5 steps of a rigorous quality evaluating process, it goes without saying that all of these people must be highly qualified professionals who will be paid a rate commensurate with their expertise.
The major advantage of the method using a plurality of translators/translation quality checkers is again that even if for example the first, original translator, is not very good, the second translator is likely to catch and fix some of the most glaring errors and problems, the third one should be able to find most of the remaining ones, the fourth quality checker will improve the grammar and keep working on the style and vocabulary, and the fifth one will mostly just make sure that all of the preceding four translators did their job to the best of their ability and in compliance with the current version of the quality management standards.
Since so many editors and quality checkers who keep changing the translation are in this manner creatively involved in the manner described above until the translation is virtually perfect, also this method makes it possible to ensure that every translation produced by a translation agency using the modern tools of the quality control process is very good, even if for example the original translator was quite inept.
3. Globalization Zeroed in on New Translators in Chindia Who Deliver a High-Quality Product
Globalization has been with us for quite some time in just about every sphere of human activity, including also the translation industry. Regardless of where you live, the clothes that you are wearing were almost certainly not manufactured in your country of residence, unless you live for example in a country like Bangladesh, China or India (sometime deprecatingly referred to as “Chindia”), i.e. a country where labor is much cheaper than for instance in North America, Australia, Japan, or Western Europe.
Just like our shirts and all kinds of products and trinkets are now mostly produced in the part of the world where labor is abundant and inexpensive, translations that are now being produced by the translation industry in fact also often originate in a developing country.
The globalizing approach to translation services made it possible to connect millions of people who did not even know that they were gifted translators in the Indian subcontinent, China and elsewhere in developing countries to translation industry agencies in the West. Although some, and possibly many of these new translators may not know the languages that they are translating very well, for instance languages such as Norwegian, Dutch, or Japanese, they are quick, highly motivated learners and it does not take them very long to perform at a reasonable level of quality, considering that initially they might not have known either the source or the target language all that well.
Outsourcing of translation services to developing countries thus finally makes it possible for talented people living in third world countries, who did not even know that they were translators, to put food on the table for their extended families.
The most important feature of the globalizing approach is the fact that translation agencies are no longer dependent on highly educated, experienced and competent but overpriced translators translating into their native language who are based in countries with a high cost of living, high taxes, etc, because the word globalization means mostly a globalized labor market in the context of the translation industry. Inexpensive but possibly very talented new translators who are now based in Chindia, Thailand, and other countries have now virtually replaced expensive specialist translators who used to be translating complex and complicated documents from foreign languages into their native tongue for many of the translations that are now output by modern translation agencies.
Even if the quality level achievable by some of the translators living in the developing world may not yet be comparable to the quality that was expected in the market before globalization, by combining the efficiency of modern, globalized markets with strict application of the quality control methods according to the stringent quality standards such as ISO 9001 or EN15038, and then also with multiple quality checking and proofreading steps mentioned above, the resulting quality of translation is again excellent because so many people keep checking and improving a translation until it is virtually perfect.
4. High-Speed Machine Translations Are Now Also Edited by Human Post-Processors at Reasonable Quality Levels
Let’s face it, customers do not want to pay a lot of money for translations regardless of the perceived quality level in a world where free machine translation is ubiquitous and instantly available.
But they just might be willing to pay a little bit for machine translations that are edited by human workers, although not necessarily expensive, subject and language-qualified expert translators. Machine translations often don’t make sense because these “translations” are merely files that have been mechanically processed by a software program without any understanding of the context or of the meaning of the original text. That is why the meaning is sometime lost – if the translation was produced by machines and if these machines were not assisted by human post-processors.
But thanks to another breakthrough discovery of the translation industry, human post-processors are now gainfully employed to assist machines by editing the often nonsensical, machine-translated output. This is not really rocket science as all that these post-processors have to do is to figure out how to put the words together to add meaning to sentences that make no sense.
It would be preferable if these post-processors had a solid knowledge of both languages that they are working with, although not necessarily at the same level that would be required from a specialized and expensive professional translator.
That is why the remuneration of post-processors who merely assist machines that are doing the heavy lifting in the translation process can be based on a modest hourly rate, combined with an obligatory number of words (in thousands) expected to be processed per hour.
This new method makes it possible to free resources that used to be wasted in the past on expensive, highly educated and experienced translator specialists. This newly freed capital can then be invested again by entrepreneurs in the translation industry into research of other innovative technological tools and management techniques that will be setting pace for new trends in the translation industry of the future.
5. Crowd Sourcing and Cloud Sourcing – New Buzzwords Spelling Out Future Trends in Translation Industry
Although the terms crowd sourcing, cloud sourcing, crowd testing and cloud testing (sometime spelled as one word) are less than a decade old, the future of the modern translation industry is already inextricably linked to clouds and crowds.
For one thing, unlike most people in developing countries, who represent identifiable individuals who presumably need to eat and pay rent, cloud and cloud workers (sometime deprecatingly referred to as “clown workers”) can be and are thought of in the translation industry as nameless and faceless persons who may be located anywhere on the planet and who might be persuaded with the right kind of marketing approach (Translating stuff on your cell phone and maybe even making spare change in this manner is so totally cool!!! Why not join us???) to work for next to nothing, or literally nothing.
Instant availability of cloud workers for any type of translation thus further increases customers’ convenience without sacrificing quality, as most of these cloud workers most likely do have some knowledge of two languages, although possibly not quite at the same level as that of professional translators in the era prior to globalization.
In any case, strict translation quality standards such as the ISO 9001 standard or the EN15038 standard are easily applicable also not only to the processing performed by post-processors of the results of machine translation, but also to the translation output generated by crowd and cloud workers (because these standards do not look at the translator or the translation per se as they are concerned only with the methods being used).
If they are also further combined with multiple layers of quality control now practiced at every stage of the production of translations in the modern translation industry, the resulting quality of translations obtained in this manner will no doubt be on par with the best results that could have been expected only from highly educated and highly experienced translators in the rather primitive, dark ages prior to application of modern translation quality guarantee systems, combined with machine translation assisted by humans and cloud and crowd processing technologies, when people were still under the illusion that the best way to ensure a high quality of translation was to pay good money to a highly educated, specialized translator who is quite fluent in two or more language, who knows and understands very well the field in question, and who is also a gifted writer.
Fortunately, after this initial, rather infantile stage, the modern version of translation industry has evolved to a new, more advanced form embracing new, ingenious methods and tools that finally made it possible to break the completely unnecessary link and false correlation between the capabilities of an educated and highly experienced human translator and the quality level of the translated product.