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Written by Steven Bussey
on October 22, 2014

In the previous blog post I explained why I don’t believe test translations to be the best way of evaluating a language services provider (LSP). To summarize:

  • They’re usually rushed, which means the translators who happen to be available do them instead of the most suitable ones.
  • Clients tend to pick a short section from the middle of a long text without context.
  • No termbases, translation memories or style guides are provided.
  • The final decision often hinges on which style the client likes, even though they did not provide any stylistic guidelines beforehand.
  • Translation vendors can easily “cheat” by using expensive translators and quality control processes in the tests that are not later employed in real-life jobs.

I hope I managed to make a case against using test translation as the sole measure of whether an LSP should be hired, but what other options are there?

First of all, translation tests, flawed as they may be, still have a place in vendor selection process. They just shouldn’t be the only or even the main factor. I recommend that buyers of translation value the following more:

  1. Do a background check. Google them, have a look at their profiles on social media (especially LinkedIn), on Glassdoor, see what they say about themselves on their website and blog, but even more so, what others say about them. How long has the company been around? How many staff do they employ? Have the key people been with the company for a long time or is it a revolving door office?
  2. See what their translators think about them. A good translation provider will have healthy, mutually beneficial and long-term relationships with linguists. This is crucial to assure they will send your content to top people and that the same ones will still be available to translate your updates later on. Making enemies with linguists is the downfall of any translation agency. How to find out what translators think about an LSP? You will find most of them on either ProZ Blue Board or TranslatorsCafé Hall of Fame and Shame.
  3. Look at their past clients. You will usually see some mentions of past clients on the LSPs website either on a Clients or Testimonials page. That will give you some idea of who the LSP works with, but it can be very misleading. Often companies try to make themselves look bigger by saying they’ve worked with some famous clients, when the reality is that they only did a small one-off job and it was a sub-contract from a bigger LSP anyway. On the other hand, the most recent or relevant clients for you might not be listed on the website. So if you have short-listed an LSP, simply ask them to provide the most up-to-date clients from your industry. Better yet, ask not only for a list of names, but also for brief descriptions of the projects and when they happened. This way you can evaluate the extent of their cooperation and how it applies (or not) to your situation.
  4. Every little thing matters. If you are taking an LSP into consideration, you are probably already in touch with them, have exchanged some emails, was sent a rate sheet, maybe some PDFs, asked a few questions and got a few replies. Throughout these interactions, what is your impression of the company? Do they respond quickly and accurately to your questions? Are they proactive in suggesting novel approaches and warning of pitfalls you should be aware of? Is there one person contacting you and getting to know your company, or are you getting emails from different employees, each one knowing little about your particular circumstances? Are their websites and other materials well written and presented? To sum it up – if you take these bits of interaction and imagine this is what your relationship with this LSP would be like long-term, would you be happy with it?
  5. Understand processes. Many buyers of translations don’t want to bother themselves with understanding how translations are done and instead prefer to treat it as a black box caring only if “the quality is good”. And “quality is good” as long as nobody complains. This is a mistake. Many of them burn through LSPs or freelancers quickly, struggle with quality, and develop a belief that all vendors are charlatans charging an arm and a leg while delivering little more than Google Translated texts. Why does this happen?
    By refusing to learn or get involved in the process of translation, they leave too much to chance and assumptions. There are many ways in which a client can work with an LSP to improve the final quality, such as by providing references, guidelines on style and terminology, reasonable deadlines, reviews, etc. But to be able to do this efficiently, buyers need to have some understanding of the processes their vendor uses. Believe me, vendors will be more than happy to explain all this in detail (unless maybe if they have something to hide). By comparing processes employed by different LSPs, you will see which ones approach the work with painstaking professionalism and which ones leave more to chance and the human factor.

I hope I’ve managed to convince the readers that they should take several factors into consideration when choosing an LSP. I strongly believe that this will result in more satisfied clients, happy vendors and higher quality translations.

In the next, and last, part of this series, I will look at ways to conduct a translation test that is of value.

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