Quality control in translation and interpreting

When it comes to translation and interpreting, quality is so important. A simple typo could change the entire meaning of a text; a mistake made by court interpreter could lead to a miscarriage of justice. Either could have very serious consequences….

Having taken the leap from freelance French < > English translator and interpreter to branching out to offer translation and interpreting in other languages, operating as a fair-trade agency, I have to be sure that my contractors deliver quality work. It’s one thing vouching for the quality of my own projects, which I have 100% control over, but guaranteeing the quality of my suppliers’ work is a whole new ball game.

Freelancers have control over the quality of their work

I know that when I translate a document, before I submit it to my client, I proofread it attentively. I check it line by line against the original for grammar, spelling, consistency and accuracy, and make the necessary amendments. At this point I will have queried any technical terms I am unsure of with specialists in the field and/or the client themselves, to ensure all is correct. The job is as perfect as I could possibly get it. I submit it to the client confident that I’ve done my very best. In a similar vein, when colleagues outsource their projects to me, I know they are going to get a quality job, not just a ‘good enough’ one.

Trusting suppliers to meet the required standards

However, when clients send me non-French projects, I’m no longer Lauren Shadi, French translator and interpreter, but Lauren Shadi, Director of Give Me Your Word. In this very different role, I am contracting the work out to other linguists, trusting they have as rigorous quality procedures in place as Lauren the freelancer. And that can be daunting. Particularly when the project involves translating a document from English into a foreign language rather than the other way round, for I can’t even give their work a monolingual proofread.

So, how can I trust contractors to deliver high quality work?

With quality always at the forefront of my mind, there are certain rules I abide by when placing a job....

Be wary of the lowest bidders

Price is definitely not the most important factor for me when it comes to placing projects. It plays a role, but it is not the sole consideration. Qualifications, experience and references must also be taken into account. I’m always extremely wary when I receive particularly low quotes from linguists. Why are they so cheap?!

The importance of a fair-trade policy

In fact, I pride myself on my fair-trade policy, which means I pay my linguists a fair rate for any project they do for Give Me Your Word. I have always promised myself that I will never pay fellow translators and/or interpreters less than what I would work for myself. We all need to make a living. I would rather, and have been known to, turn down contracts rather than insult my colleagues, who are all highly qualified and experienced, by pushing unfair rates of pay on them for the highly specialist and vital work that we do. I’ve actually lost out on French projects in the past to cheaper contractors, only to receive an email from a desperate project manager a few days later begging me to rectify the messy job submitted by the translator! In these scenarios, the client ends up paying more to get the job up to the correct standard, than if they had simply commissioned the right person in the first place. They don’t say “pay peanuts, get monkeys” for nothing! I therefore view my policy, in this respect, as a quality control mechanism.

Only work with highly-qualified, experienced, committed suppliers

Another way in which I trust I am getting quality is by only commissioning work to qualified professionals who have years of experience and specialise in the subject area of the project concerned. You wouldn’t use an unqualified doctor to perform surgery on a family member, so why would you trust an unqualified translator to translate a document for you simply because they’re bilingual?

My suppliers must also be members of the professional bodies that govern our industry in the UK or abroad. The latter not only shows their commitment to the profession, but it is also a gauge of quality, for in order to become a member of these organisations, we must sit difficult exams, provide references and jump through various administrative hoops.

When working with new suppliers, carry out a “mystery shop” proofread

Even when linguists are members of professional associations, you still have to remain

vigilant and keep tabs on quality. I learnt this after an unpleasant experience of placing a

financial project with a translator who had a professional membership and was also part of a specialist legal and financial translation sub-group. As always, I assured the client that the

translator would fully proofread their work, but they could pay an additional fee for it to be

proofread by a third-party proof-reader as well. The client declined the extra proofreading

option. Nevertheless, as the document was particularly complex, I asked the translator to

deliver in batches, and arranged for the first batch to be proofread by a colleague, at my own cost. Unfortunately, the proof-reader found the standard to be unacceptable. The translator was quite obviously not a specialist in the field and had submitted, in the words of the proof-reader, a “sloppy” and “inconsistent” job. Despite giving the linguist the opportunity to rectify their mistakes, the second version was just as poor. Luckily, with the help of a small, genuinely specialist team, I was able to turn things around, and, in the end, deliver a high-quality job.

I was glad that I’d arranged for a staggered delivery, and had the first batch proofread. I

now follow this same process whenever I commission a job to a new supplier.

Make it easy for contractors to ask questions if they are unsure of something in the text

When Give Me Your Word places a job with a translator, we have systems in place to enable queries to be passed on to the client and their responses fed back to the translator on a daily basis. This method is far more efficient than to-ing and fro-ing with emails; the translator can raise queries quickly and has all the questions and answers in one place, and the client feels safe in the knowledge that the linguist is striving for accuracy.

In conclusion, we can vouch for the quality of work we have done ourselves, but not for that of others. A translation and interpreting agency, which operates on the basis of contracting projects out to suppliers, therefore needs quality control systems and procedures to ensure that deliverables meet the expected standard. Of the rules of thumb Give Me Your Word lives by, I am confident that my fair-trade policy is a decisive factor in attracting quality suppliers. You only need to look to the press to read about the costly adjournments in court cases caused by interpreter difficulties; offer a decent rate of pay and you will get the right staff….

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