Blog post dated Nov 18, 2019

Be Careful When Choosing a Language Service Provider

All that glitters is not gold! This is also true for translations and translation service providers. Far too often, customers are blinded by dazzling marketing masterpieces. Others favor low prices over value for money. Where background knowledge and insight are lacking, it is easy to spellbind some with empty promises or half-truths.

This often results in enormous quality problems, which in turn trigger a substantial waste of time and unforeseen extra costs in order to restore the required quality—provided of course that the damage is not already beyond repair.

An Article by

Azadeh Eshaghi
Independent Consultant, Eshaghi Consulting

At this point, at the latest, the customer will awaken to the fact that—as the Brits would say—he has been "penny-wise, but pound-foolish". Obviously, a brilliant slogan does not automatically mean a brilliant translation.

Accordingly, a number of points should be taken into consideration when choosing a language service provider: expertise, quality awareness, use of tools, pricing, communication, willingness to cooperate, and transparency.

To verify these criteria, it would be advisable to draw up a checklist that can be used to interview and assess all potential candidates in a standardized way. Of course, you need to know exactly what you expect from a service provider. First of all, you should therefore prepare a list of specifications, which you can then use as the basis for your checklist.

Additionally, there are various measures that can facilitate the selection of the language service provider and the preparation for the collaboration.

First of all, you should prepare a list of specifications, which you can then use as the basis for your checklist.

Core Points of a Checklist

Expertise: Companies and Their Staff

Have you ever read slogans like "We work exclusively with native speakers" or "Benefit from our expert services"?

Careful! Do not fall into the trap of incompetent native speakers. The mere fact that the work is done by native speakers does not guarantee high quality. Other criteria also need to be taken into account.

  • For instance, have the translators, correctors, and reviewers completed professional training as translators, and are they familiar with the basics of modern translation?
  • What are their specialized language skills?
  • How experienced are they in the listed subject areas, and is their experience sufficient? For example, "specialized in technology" does not sound very convincing.

A professional language service provider can be expected to have, not only a team of qualified translators, but also competent project managers who either have a translation background or whom he continuously trains in this area. For example, a competent project manager is well aware of the status quo of translation technology and is able to support and advise his customers in common processes. He will also draw his customers' attention to risks, e.g. if their demands are not realistic.

Quality Awareness

It is important to find out how important a language service provider considers quality and quality management to be.

  • Is the language service provider familiar with the ISO 17100 standard, is he certified according to this standard, or does he apply this standard?
  • What measures are taken to ensure flawless translation quality?
  • How are translator questions handled? Who takes care of the correction of errors in ongoing translation projects and translation repositories, and how?
  • What processes are in place for this purpose?
  • What measures does the language service provider take in order to ensure uniform, correct use of corporate terminology?

If the cooperation is already in place, it would be interesting to learn what problem points the language service provider has identified and which improvements he could suggest in order to achieve better results.

It would be interesting to learn what problem points the language service provider has identified and which improvements he could suggest.

Use of Tools

Though you might think that all language service providers deploy modern tools, that is not always the case. Sometimes, a tool exists, but has not been duly introduced, as the team is unable to use it efficiently. So, be careful!

  • Does the language service provider use CAT (computer-aided translation) tools?
  • How well do the project managers know the CAT tools?
  • Do all translators use a CAT tool? If not, how will the cooperation work?
  • How is it made sure that all parties involved in the process use the same database?
  • Who makes sure that corrections are implemented in the databases of the CAT tools?
  • What interfaces are there?


In connection with the use of CAT tools, pricing is a key factor. Apart from quality management and time savings, CAT tools can provide a price advantage, as discounts can be granted on previously translated content.

  • What are the details of the pricing/offer?
  • How are fuzzy matches, 100% matches, and repetitions billed?
  • How transparent and comprehensible are the provider's offers and invoices?

Communication and Organization

Smooth communication and a professional organization play a key role in ensuring the success of translation projects.

  • Who will be your permanent contact?
  • Which communication routes does the language service provider offer?
  • How easy is it to reach the project management team?
  • How can translation inquiries and translation orders be sent to the language service provider?
  • How many translators are available for the relevant language pairs and directions in particular subject areas?
  • Is the language service provider cable of providing the same translators for larger projects and for long-term cooperation?
  • Which translator is responsible for the quality management?

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Willingness to Cooperate

For complex translation orders and highly specialized subject areas for which few resources are available, the customer must be able to train the translators directly.

  • Would the language service be willing to disclose the names of the translators in order to enable direct contact and any required further training?
  • What kind of background do the translators and project managers have?
  • How often does the language service provider visit his customers?
  • How is customer feedback and criticism handled?

Further Measures to Choose a Language Service Provider

Following the initial contact, which usually takes place by telephone or e-mail, it would be beneficial for you to invite the language service provider for a personal meeting. At such a meeting, any test translations that have been prepared in the meantime as well as the choice of translators can be discussed.

Use this opportunity to ask all relevant questions. For this, a list of questions or a checklist can be very useful. Once the potential language service providers have been evaluated in a standardized manner, i.e. on the basis of a checklist or questionnaire, you can assess the answers with the help of a list of pros and cons or, even better, by means of a SWOT analysis.

Once you opt for a particular language service provider, you should come together to discuss a framework agreement that outlines quantity prices, due dates, and other details of the cooperation. In such a framework agreement, do not forget to specify that all translation and terminology databases created on your behalf are and will remain your property, and that you have the unlimited right to inspect and receive these data. Moreover, the forwarding and use of your corporate terminology for other customers should be expressly prohibited in the framework agreement.

Next, all language processes and all workflows between you and the language service provider should be documented and defined. Especially translation guidelines and style guides are invaluable aids both for you and for the language service provider (see ISO 17100).

Depending on the scope of the order, you and the language service provider—i.e. your project manager and the provider's key account manager—should come together about once or twice a year for a personal follow-up meeting. Regular, transparent communication helps to improve the results, as problems can be identified and joint solutions can be found at an early stage.

Following the initial contact, it would be beneficial for you to invite the language service provider for a personal meeting.

About the Author

Azadeh Eshaghi is an independent consultant and senior terminologist. She holds a degree in international technical communication (Dipl.-FH). Azadeh has worked in the field of technical communication for more than 13 years, and she is specialized in language processes in SME and large corporations and in the establishment of knowledge networks in various organizations. Additionally, she serves as Chairwoman of Tecom Switzerland.

Website: Eshaghi Consulting