Key topics to discuss with a potential language service provider when hiring translation services

Go Global’s tips for asking the right questions and making the most informed decision when choosing a strategic language partner. 

Whenever a large company is growing and scaling up, the same problems arise. Going global means reaching out to different audiences and transforming all types of content into languages you don’t understand. So how can you judge the quality of the translation service you’re hiring?

On top of that, your competitors are launching similar products and services onto the same markets. Time-to-market shortens, and you need product, packaging, web content, and marketing materials in many languages in a short window of time. How can you take the lead on this? Or better: how can you turn this apparent chaos into a competitive advantage? 

The answer to both questions is “by hiring a seasoned language provider.” You do a web search, ask around for recommendations, and land your first meeting. To make the most out of it, our Client Solutions team shares key topics to discuss with potential providers to help you make the most informed decision and be certain you’re choosing the right strategic partner.

Operations and delivery

When picturing a translation or localization workflow, many people tend to focus solely on the linguistic tasks: the expert takes a piece of content, transforms it into another language, and returns it. So far, pretty straightforward. But when handling corporate projects, the workflow is a lot more complex than that. First, there isn’t just one  file, but many. Second, there isn’t just one pair of languages, but many. Third, the files are in different formats, come from various sources, and involve technical challenges, such as software compatibility. This combination leads to a scenario that involves many actors and many steps with different levels of difficulty. Coordinating this system is the linguistic project manager.  

The project manager is a dedicated professional responsible for monitoring and facilitating each step of a project from start to finish and acting as  the client’s liaison by providing updates. Linguistic project management responsibilities include specification development, file preparation, onboarding and training of linguists, quality control, preparation of deliverables, and direct client contact. When hiring a language service provider, you should make sure that it assigns a dedicated project manager to each project. This way, you’ll have direct communication with the team handling your project to receive updates, ask questions, and give feedback. 

Regarding deliveries, corporate language services usually involve large-volume projects. The provider’s ability to keep up with the volume connects directly to a combination of automation technology, a scalable global workforce, and an agile mindset to adapt processes and infrastructure to each client’s needs. When discussing delivery dates with a potential provider, be sure to ask about their average operational capacity and response times, both for a regular planned schedule and on short notice.  

Technology

When discussing the technology involved in a project with your potential language service provider, two main issues arise: automation and security. When speaking about automation, we’re not referring to automated translation (which, no matter how much progress it makes, still isn’t as good as human expertise) but to automated processes for large-volume file handling. Today, there are various solutions at an enterprise level to automate manual tasks for file preparation and delivery that can significantly reduce time and cost. Providers can work with the resources your team is already using (such as cloud file storage solutions) or develop a special infrastructure tailored to your needs. From standard connectors to more bespoke development, there’s a wide range of technological assets for relieving employees of repetitive tasks and allowing them to focus on more valuable outcomes. 

The other technological pillar for a successful large-volume project is security. Professional language service providers store and manage projects in a secure translation server. When speaking to your potential provider, discuss the data storage and management protocols to be sure that all the resources you provide will be secure at each step of the process. 

Quality

A talk about quality with your language service provider may take two different directions: processes and deliverables. As language services include both the product (the translated content) and the service (all the necessary steps to do it successfully), evaluating quality puts the whole customer experience under scrutiny. 

To help you anticipate what kind of experience a provider is offering before having the chance to verify it once the project is finished, there are international standards and certifications to consider. Language service providers usually refer to ISO standards, specifically ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 17100:2015. 

ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization that has developed over 23,000 international standards covering almost all technology and manufacturing aspects. ISO 9001 lays out the criteria for a quality management system, including a strong customer satisfaction focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and a continual improvement culture. Processes that are ISO 9001 certified ensure that customers get consistent, high-quality products and services. 

While the standard is not specific to the translation and localization industry, it does ensure that all operations are planned, well documented, and developed according to a Quality Management System (QMS). This way, a certified provider will be focusing consistently on meeting customer needs, delivering high-quality language products and services, and staying committed to continuous improvement. 

ISO 17100 certification is specific to the translation industry. It allows a provider to prove that their translations comply with international standards, and its processes and resources can meet the clients’ and other applicable specifications.

A language service company with ISO 9001 and ISO 17100 certifications is capable of offering both quality products and quality service, using processes certified at an international level.

Quotes and fees

When hiring translation services, the standard fee system is per-word price, but there’s a lot of variation on what that per-word price includes. To compare estimates from different providers, ask them to specify what the service includes. Some topics to consider are specialization, project management, quality, and discounts for repetition. 

Specialization refers to the linguists’ knowledge level in the subject addressed in the content, your industry in general, and your brand in particular. If you work in highly-regulated industries, it can also involve specific certifications. Needless to say, the more experienced a linguist is in an industry and topic, the higher the fee, but also the higher the quality of the translation and the strategic value of the content involved. 

Regarding project management, the fee may or may not include a dedicated project manager for the project. This is what sets experienced providers apart, since the project manager’s role streamlines operations, reducing errors and time. 

Quality involves certifications, a specific workflow, and the development of linguistic resources. Regarding certifications, you can ask about ISO (mentioned above) or other management systems and measures in order to standardize quality metrics. When speaking about the workflow, make sure to ask your potential providers to indicate how many steps their translation process involves. Usually, a high-quality translation requires three steps. In the first one, the translator transforms the content from the source to the target language. In the second one, an editor (who is also a translator experienced in the subject matter) combs through the text. The third step is the quality assurance process, in which a quality expert examines the text to confirm that the team met all the project specifications. This multi-step verification workflow serves to maximize accuracy, reduce errors, and give the project a bonus of team collaboration and feedback for a top-level outcome. 

Another aspect of translation quality that often goes undiscussed is the creation and maintenance of linguistic resources such as glossaries and translation memories. A glossary is a list of keywords, a “brief dictionary” on a specific subject. It is created over time by the translation teams that work for a brand to ensure that the same terms will always be translated in the same way. A translation memory is a database that stores sentences, paragraphs, or sentence-like units called “segments” that have previously been translated. Both glossaries and translation memories are valuable resources a language service provider can develop and maintain. Used in combination with computer-assisted translation tools, they ensure consistency and save time and costs. 

Last in the list of services that may or may not be included in the per-word rate is repetition discounts. High-volume projects usually have words and text fragments that repeat, which allow the provider to offer two types of rates: one for what is called “effort words,” the words that will be translated for the first time, and one for repetition, for words that appear more than one time in the text. To find out the proportion of effort and repeated words, the provider may ask you for a sample of the text to translate so they can give a more accurate estimate. 

Takeaway

Choosing the right language service provider for your company can be the difference between buying words as a commodity and establishing a strategic partnership that will help your business grow globally. 

To find the best fit, make sure to evaluate several options and ask specific questions regarding project operations, technological infrastructure, quality, and service rates. 

This way, you will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, avoid unpleasant surprises, save time and money, and start every project with complete peace of mind.

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