“She Speaks Your Language” Isn’t Good Enough for Translation Quality
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“She Speaks Your Language” Isn’t Good Enough for Translation Quality

“She Speaks Your Language” Isn’t Good Enough for Translation Quality

Question MarkFew things are taken as seriously in the localization industry as the issue of translation quality. Sure, there has been some debate within the community about whether “quality” is an absolute or a moving target. And, yes, we have learned to concede ground to the “good enough” offerings of online engines such as Google Translate and Bing Translator. But among the industry’s buyers of translation, localization, and testing services — and, frankly, among the localization sales and marketing teams that target them — quality remains as persuasive a factor as ever.

So let’s say that you are looking for a vendor who can do more than merely whisper the magic word. What questions should you be asking to determine whether this language service provider versus another is actually going to deliver on the promise of quality?

Do they hire native speakers?

Language fluency is a beautiful thing. Being able to communicate with others in their languages opens up a wealth of opportunity, in the commercial world as in the personal. But let’s be realistic here. There is simply no substitute in language fluency to actually growing up in a language.

It is not about the grammar book.

Yes, there are organizations in many countries that are actually responsible for documenting the code that represents one language versus another. And, yes, you can learn the codes of a structured language. But its parts — phonemes, morphemes, syntax, and context — are not alone what represents language. Language is social, dynamic, adaptable, and defiantly rule breaking.

Are they located in the target market?

Language is also local. It is what makes the eye-opening and unintentionally hilarious difference between fanny (British meaning) and fanny (U.S. meaning) in languages both called English. It is the difference between the French of Montreal and the French of Paris. It is the kind of difference that a Portuguese speaker from Rio de Janeiro will notice on the Portuguese website of a company based in Lisbon.

Do they have translation industry experience?

Nevertheless, a localization company that merely hires native speakers will suffer qualitatively when compared to companies that prioritize linguistic education and industry experience.

You understand this intuitively in your own language: There is a quality difference in the language of Shakespeare and the English spoken at a London pub. Which is “better,” however, is about context. (Try Shakespeare at your next family barbecue.) There are skills in the translation industry that distinguish casual language travelers from language professionals who are “transcreating” marketing material or localizing software applications for their marketplace.

Do they have expertise in my industry specifically?

These translation industry professionals tend to specialize in the same ways that other professionals do. Would you take your struggle to meet local tax requirements to a lawyer who usually represents accident victims? Probably not. And that is because you understand that the nuances of one sector — with its language, its rules, and its processes — are qualitatively different than another.

The translation quality that you are looking for will be better served by translation professionals that understand your industry’s terminology as it is used in their native markets.

Do they have the infrastructure to deliver quality?

None of the above matters without systems that make the quality value a deliverable reality. You need systems into which you can deliver your content, whatever that content may be. You need people and processes that transform that living and breathing content into something living, breathing, and recognizable to foreign consumers. You need tools — guides, methods, metrics, and standards, among others — that can help you assess (as objectively as possible) that the quality of what is delivered is indeed right for your products and services in the target market.


With this simple checklist, you have a better chance of actually approaching the quality expectations that so many desire. When in doubt, of course, turn to a reputable, professional translation company.