Blog post dated Sep 16, 2019

Optimizing Translation Processes

Quite a number of companies fail to clearly define their translation processes even after many years. As a result, they often suffer from late deliveries, flawed translations, or extra project management workload.

An Article by

Flurina Schwendimann
Freelance Translator

The following story describes a "typical" translation process.

Lucy Jones works with a US-based lamp manufacturer we will call Lumos LLC. As a project manager in the marketing department, her range of duties includes the coordination of translation orders. So far, the translation process has been largely hassle-free: She sends the texts to be translated to the commissioned language service provider, and a few days later, the translations come back in German and French, the languages spoken in the company's main sales markets. The communication takes place by e-mail. Sometimes, Lucy is annoyed by the flood of incoming and outgoing messages, and confusion sometimes arises with regard to the due dates, but so far, she has been able to successfully solve all problems.

One day, Lucy is called to a meeting at which the sales manager discloses the company's plans to expand to Spain and Italy. Everybody is in high spirits, looking forward to the new project. Lucy, however, has her doubts. The overhead for the translation into two languages is already very high, and the process is cluttered. What are things going to be like with two additional languages? She also realizes that she does not really know what happens to the texts once she sends them off to the language service provider.

So how can Lucy master the challenges she is faced with? What she needs is a proper translation process. The first step she should take is to deal with the subject in depth—not only with the internal translation process, but especially with the outsourced subprocess, which often is a black box. Lucy can only take action and make the process more straightforward, uniform, and transparent once she knows exactly what is going on.

Deal not only with the internal translation process, but especially with the outsourced subprocess, which often is a black box.

The Translation Process in Detail

The translation process consists of two components: the various editing steps that a text traverses until the translation is ready for publication in the target country and the supply chain, i.e. the people involved in the translation process.

Who Is Involved in the Translation?

Depending on the size of the business, the text volume, and other framework conditions, the supply chains and the overall translation processes can differ significantly from company to company.

The diagram shows who might be involved in the translation process. The shortest supply chain is an arrangement in which one internal translator takes care of "everything". Another example of a simple supply chain is the use of one external freelance translator who handles the orders.

However, if multiple languages and sales markets need to be addressed, companies often prefer to work with a language service provider in order to gain more flexibility. From this point, keeping track of the process can get very difficult, as most language service providers work with numerous freelance translators on a project-specific basis.

Most language service providers work with numerous freelance translators on a project-specific basis.

Some language service providers have internal translators that take care of some of the customers. Moreover, some large language service providers merely serve as intermediaries between smaller translation agencies that in turn work with freelance and/or internal translators.

As you can see, the supply chain can easily get very complex and obscure. At the end, the customer seldom knows who really saw and edited his texts.

Another important question is how a translation is actually prepared. In fact, translation involves more than merely rendering the text in the target language. Some other important steps are required in order to deliver a final product that satisfies the customer's needs.

How Does a Translation Come about?

As trivial and simple as this question might sound, the underlying process is by no means a piece of cake. From the composition of the source text to the translation that is ready to be put to use, there are numerous steps that might be performed by various persons. This clearly shows that the translation process is much more complicated than it might appear. Below, we will analyze the possible steps in detail and draw attention to the respective benefits and challenges.

Note: The translation process seldom comprises all steps shown here. A company that handles all translations internally will not have the external steps, and vice versa. Though the correction and review stages are very important, these steps are sometimes skipped. Moreover, the steps shown below might be performed in a different order. Therefore, this process merely serves the purpose of demonstrating what the translation workflow might involve.

Source Text Creation

Obviously, the first step that is required even before the translation is the composition of the source text. Depending on the text type, the source text might be composed by departments such as technical documentation, marketing, or legal. The challenge associated with this step is to write the text in such a way that the translation gets as easy as possible. In this context, "translation-oriented authoring" is a key field of interest. What does this involve? A text should be composed as consistently as possible: consistent terminology, consistent style, consistent use of wording, and so on. Authoring assistance tools can help meet these requirements.

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Source Text Extraction

In many cases, texts are not written immediately before the translation. Often, texts that already "exist" digitally need to be translated, e.g. texts from the website, the CMS, a PIM system, etc. Before these texts can be transmitted to the provider, they usually need to be extracted manually.

This time-consuming process can be largely automated by using a translation management system in combination with interfaces to third-party systems.

Internal Terminology

Unfortunately, this step is frequently overlooked or skipped, though it could actually provide substantial time and costs savings in the course of the project. The terminology used in the source text needs to be consolidated and harmonized. The ideal approach is to do the terminology work even while composing the source text. In this way, the texts do not need to be reworked later on. Use of a terminology system can help create the entries uniformly.

Another benefit is that the translators can be provided with the terminology database when the order is placed. Many translators offer terminology work as an additional service. In this way, the multilingual database can be developed even during the translation. The next time you have a project with a similar topic, you can save time and money, because you do not need to spend any time on researching the terminology.

In many cases, texts are not written immediately before the translation. Often, texts that already "exist" digitally need to be translated.

Internal Project Management

The project manager coordinates the translation process. By when are the translations needed, into which languages do the documents need to be translated, and will the translation take place internally or externally? Depending on how the translation process is structured, these are just some of the issues an internal project manager might have to deal with. If, for example, a company uses both internal and external translators, he or she needs to decide which texts are to remain in the company and which ones are to be outsourced. Furthermore, the internal project manager serves as the main contact for external project managers.

Example

Lumos LLC works with a language service provider. Whenever the freelance translators have questions concerning a current project, they forward them to their external project manager, who then contacts Lucy. If she is unable to answer a question, she needs to find and contact an expert who is able to do so. In this way, several hours or even days can go by until a question is answered. This can be a serious problem in the case of time-critical orders.

Therefore, you should endeavor to keep communication routes as short as possible. To ensure the continuous accumulation of expertise, it might be a good idea to request the language provider to always use the same translator(s) for certain projects. Moreover, the designated translator could be assigned a direct contact in order to speed up the process of getting answers whenever questions arise.

Internal Translation

This step is relatively self-explanatory. If the texts are translated internally, the communication routes are very short. Internal translators have a good knowledge of the subject area, the terminology, and the company's communication style. All these factors help ensure that your company's corporate identity is duly reflected in the texts. Often, the translator also plays the role of the terminologist. This might be a suitable arrangement for a small company with a relatively small translation volume, but in a larger enterprise, it might be advisable to separate these two areas.

External Project Management

The project managers of language service providers have a wide range of duties—from budget planning and project coordination to quality management and selection of new freelance translators. They serve as the points of contacts for customers and translators alike and need to make sure that the texts are submitted to the customer in due time and in the expected quality. They are also responsible for sending the translators any customer feedback and coordinating correction loops in case the customer is not fully satisfied with the result.

External Translation

In the translation industry, there are various supplier management models. Here is an overview of the various approaches, some of which were already mentioned earlier on:

  1. Freelance translators who work with direct customers without a language service provider as an intermediary
  2. Freelance translators who work for several language service providers that engage them on a project basis
  3. Language service providers that work with internal translators
  4. Language service providers that work with internal and freelance translators
  5. Large language service providers that work with freelance translators and other (usually local) language service providers in order to be able to offer more languages. Among other things, these LSPs operate as "intermediaries" between the customer and the other agency. The actual translator is employed with the second (or even third) language service provider or works for him on a freelance basis.

Project managers serve as the points of contacts for customers and translators alike and need to make sure that the texts are submitted to the customer in due time and in the expected quality.

The cooperation with language service providers and freelance translators can be very good and successful if your company supplies sufficient information material. This includes style guides, terminology databases, translation memories, etc. The more information a translator has about your company, the more accurately he or she will be able to work and the fewer internal correction loops will be necessary later on in order to adapt the terminology, the layout, or other deviations from the required communication style.

External Correction/Review

For those who are not familiar with this line of work, it is sometimes difficult to understand the difference between correction and review. While the correction involves a check for grammar, typography and spelling errors, the review comprises a check of the content. The main objective of the review is to enhance the comprehensibility of the text. Long, complicated, or nested sentences are reworded, and missing connections are established. Sometimes, entire sentences are rephrased in case the translator failed to interpret the source sentence correctly.

In practice, the correction and review are often intermingled. When a corrector notices problems related to the style, he will usually highlight these as well. The question is whether the review should actually be performed by the language service provider. Though additional corporate expertise is not always necessary in order to improve the style or missing context information, it would be advisable to have the final review done directly in the company or in the respective overseas subsidiary.

Many language service providers make use of the double-checking approach in which a corrector (who is usually also a translator) revises the text.

Many language service providers make use of the double-checking approach in which a corrector (who is usually also a translator) revises the text.

External Layouting

Freelance translators are usually required to apply the layout of the source text to the translation. If they use a CAT tool, this is done automatically, as the text is separated from the layout during the translation and is displayed in a format-independent way. Upon check-out, the translation is converted back into the original layout and format.

In some cases, however, the layout can cause some trouble. For example, it might be distorted due to different word lengths and might therefore need to be post-edited. Therefore, some language service providers and freelance translators also offer DTP services. In this way, the company can directly use the translation. Things get more complicated if errors are found in the final layout. This is just one of the reasons why a correction and review should by all means be performed.

External Quality Assurance

The external quality assurance (QA) is the last step before the data are returned to the customer. Most language service providers have their QA handled by the project manager. Some take care of the QA in collaboration with the corrector or reviewer. In certain cases, the language service providers require their suppliers (freelance translators) to use external QA tools and to send them the reports in order to make the work easier for them.

The correct use of numbers, missing translations, and the correct use of the terminology and translation memory are some of the aspects that can be checked within the scope of the final QA. Thus, rather than the actual content of the translation, this stage focuses on technical aspects, which however are just as important.

Data Transfer

The data transfer starts with the placement of the order, i.e. when the documents are sent to the translator or language service provider. The "easiest" method is to send the files by e-mail. This method might appear to be fast and straightforward.

However, there is a need for caution. In recent years, the subject of data security has greatly increased in significance. Therefore, it must be considered whether this method of communication is secure enough. Moreover, large files cannot be sent by e-mail. Another disadvantage is that long e-mail threads often develop, and not all who are involved in the process receive the relevant information. Moreover, e-mails are sometimes overlooked or deleted accidentally. In the translation process, this can result in deadlines being missed, which can have serious consequences.

For this reason, many companies now use translation management systems (TMS). If you are not (yet) so familiar with this topic, read the article "All about Translation Management Systems". A TMS enables a seamless supply chain without loss of data and information and guarantees a high level of information security. Apart from these aspects, a TMS features modules such as a project management module and a workflow control module. This greatly facilitates the data transfer between the company and a translator or language service provider.

Internal Correction/Review

The scope of internal corrections and reviews may vary depending on whether or not the translators or language service providers have already performed these steps. A review is advisable even if the customer has already performed a correction cycle, as an external provider never has as much knowledge as an internal employee. In the ideal case, the correction or review should be conducted in the local subsidiary that will ultimately use the translation. In this way, aspects such as the cultural suitability can be checked, and the customer approach can be perfectly aligned with the corporate identity.

If the external provider has not performed any review or correction, this should by all means be done internally.

A TMS enables a seamless supply chain without loss of data and information and guarantees a high level of information security.

Internal Layouting

To arrange the layout internally makes sense where the revision is very extensive or the translation is to be published in an entirely new layout. For example, this may be the case when old white papers are revised or the cultural differences between the various countries are very pronounced.

Internal Quality Management

The work done by the internal QS is similar to that done by the external QS. Due to their proximity to the company, project managers are in a better position to assess the documents.

Upload and Publication of Target Documents (Website, PIM System, CMS, ...)

Once the finished translation is on hand, the last step is to upload and publish the target document. As mentioned above, this process can be automated by using a translation management system in combination with an interface to the respective third-party systems (PIM system, CMS, etc.). A lot of time and money can be saved in this way. Additionally, a translation management system can enhance the translation process with features such as secure translation management, terminology databases, and translation memories.

Conclusion

To optimize the translation process in a purposeful way, the enterprise must know what it actually involves. To unleash the optimization potential, the process should be visualized.

Many steps can be automated in order to relieve the manual workload, avoid error sources, and accelerate the process. By deploying a translation management system, the translation process can be mapped throughout the entire supply chain in order to save resources and increase the data security.

As translation processes are highly individual for all companies, infrastructures, and framework conditions, enough time should be allotted to the first step, and external process consultants should be engaged if necessary.