My colleague, Mitja Sternkopf, from Translation Management likes to emphasise "Translation has a lot to do with trust". I can certainly understand this. In my career as a Technical Editor in industry, and as a service provider for various customers, the translation of our source texts from the Technical Editorial department has always been (and still is) an important issue.
If, for example, documents, online help and GUI texts have to be provided in more than 20 languages, and about 10 of them simultaneously, this would be an enormous organisational challenge and a major expense. The quality delivered simply must fit. In the first step, this requires a good deal of trust that both Language Service Providers and Translators have done their job correctly.
Finding an appropriate Language Service Provider with whom one would like to work together with willingly, and above all, over the long-term (i.e. it must ultimately be worthwhile) is therefore a task to which one should also pay an appropriate amount of attention.
At first glance, it seems all-too-appealing to fix the cost of translations at the price per word. However, whether the cooperation works efficiently and the translation costs develop in the desired direction can be better determined by other characteristics. So how can you tell whether a Language Service Provider can ultimately become a satisfactory supplier? To avoid having to depend on trust, you can ask the right questions and see pretty quickly whether your LSP has the correct answers.
Which Language Service Providers should be considered?
Certification in accordance with the relevant standards can provide an initial indication. ISO 17100 is an international standard that specifies requirements for translation processes and minimal qualification requirements for individuals responsible for translation tasks.
If information security plays a major role in the handling of confidential documents, it's also worth asking about appropriate standards (e.g. TISAX: Trusted Information Security Assessment Exchange).
Machine Translation may now also be suitable for certain types of text (and language combinations). If the LSP offers this service, precise advice on suitability, limits and options is a prerequisite for the successful use of this technology.
Existing Translation Memories (TMs) have a dramatic effect on translation costs, especially for similar texts. An LSP will therefore ask for existing TMs, if only in order to be able to offer competitive services, as compared with an existing provider. It's therefore also important for you to make it clear in advance that a (newly created) TM belongs to your company, and that you can delete it, if necessary.
Terminology and Reference Material
Terminology already built up by you (in source and—ideally—in target languages) increases the quality of new translations. Using the correct terms should not just be a coincidence. An LSP therefore requests terminology and reference material in advance and offers to translate terminology lists and have them approved by you before the actual translation project is completed.
Your products are complex and documents to be translated may be aimed at specially-trained professionals. A new LSP and new Translators must first develop the necessary understanding of your products and target audiences. Knowledge is built-up with permanent Project Managers and regular Translators on the LSP-side. The willingness to take part in product training indicates that they're willing to invest in long-term cooperation.
Technical Editorial Know-how
An LSP should know about technical editing and approval processes and also be familiar with common technologies, such as those used in technical editing. These include XML-based Content Management Systems and modular content creation. Therefore, if the Language Service Provider asks for the DTD (Document Type Definition) when necessary, chances are good that you'll receive a valid XML file back.
Common technical editing formats (e.g. InDesign, FrameMaker or Word), should of course also be manageable by the LSP. With such file formats, the layout of the document must still fit after translation. Manual page breaks and the size of text fields, for example, must be adapted to the respective language, so that you're left with a publishable document in your hands at the end of the process. Images and PDFs also need to be translated occasionally. An LSP should therefore be able to offer expertise in DTP (Desktop Publishing) that meets your needs.
Various technologies and techniques are used for Quality Assurance (e.g. the "four-eyes principle"), in which the translation is checked by a second native speaker Translator. As a customer, you usually only know what your LSP explains to you. However, you can request a test translation first. If possible, provide terminology for the test in advance and have the quality of the translated texts checked (e.g. by a foreign subsidiary). It's important that you always have the translation checked against the source text. In technical translation, being faithful to the original text is what counts—and not re-writing.
Communication and Improvement
Before, during and after the translation project, your LSP will talk to you, initially (of course) highly motivated in the initial project, but equally so in subsequent projects. If the declared goal is to optimise translation costs, the Technical Editorial department and LSPs must work together on process improvements and the best possible use of available technologies. What if the translated GUI text segments are far too long? The cost of subsequent translations simply isn't decreasing, despite texts that are formulated in a translation-friendly manner? Have a chat with your LSP about this—the professional handling of questions and complaints is as much a quality feature of an LSP as the quality of the translations, themselves.
If you have a trusting relationship with your Language Service Provider, there are many things you can work on together to improve both quality and cost.