Translation Sample: The Deceit

Replace your microscope with a kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope representing a Translation Sample

“Before I do business with you, you need to prove your worth to me by translating the attached presentation into German and delivering the translation sample back no later than Monday. I am timing you, ready, set, go…”

It was Friday afternoon when our lead nurturing team received this email. They passed it on to a sales rep who, unable to get hold of this prospect by phone, turned it to a project manager. He gave her instructions to proceed. Subsequently, the translation sample request hit my desk for approval. I promptly stopped it in its tracks as there had been no previous personal involvement with this prospect.

The Allure of the Translation Sample

Although the above is not typical, we do receive now and then calls from prospective clients asking us to perform free translation samples.This typically happens early in the evaluation process. The intent is typically to gauge the quality and workmanship of our service. Other vendors often comply which encourages this practice in the industry. But before you ask for your next translation sample, think about what it is actually buying you.

When any company is faced with a test, it is natural for it to put its best foot forward. This requires having the most qualified translator do the work.

The Deceit 

Once you accept the test and select a company, the project starts. At that point they assign a project manager to manage your tasks. Translation tasks may involve multiple translators different from the original translator that worked on the sample. This is not to intentionally deceive the newly acquired client, but often is due to miscommunication or scheduling, availability and cost tradeoffs. The end result will still be acceptable if you have chosen a competent translation vendor. But the sample test suddenly looses all its meaning.

The Alternative

As a cartoon once put it, Individuals can and do make a difference, but it takes teamwork to really mess things up! Therefore a better indicator of vendors’ abilities is not at the micro level (translation sample), but rather at the macro level (overall project). We suggest the following steps:

  1. Narrow down your search to no more than 3 potential vendors based on their abilities to meet your language, schedule, technology, process and price needs.
  2. Ask for references or client testimonials, preferably from clients that they have executed similar projects for. Do your due diligence. Call their clients and ask pertinent questions relating to your requirements. Find out about any problems they encountered and how they addressed and resolved them.
  3. Ask the vendor how often they perform customer satisfaction surveys. Request to see the results for the past 3 years. Have them convince you of their ability and commitment to retain clients and satisfy budget, schedule and quality requirements.
  4. Ask if you will have a dedicated project manager to work on your project and to interview her. A good project manager trumps a good translator. She will take charge by staffing your projects and making them successful. If you are to test someone, test the project manager’s technical skill, communications abilities and work ethics. The project manager’s SAT scores have more relevance than a translation sample!
  5. If you are still not sure about which vendor to choose, consider performing a paid pilot project. You can start with the most promising vendor. The pilot should have similar requirements as your actual project in all aspects except volume.

The Success

Measuring the success of your pilot project depends not only on accurate translations. It also depends on other important factors like responsiveness, timely delivery, meeting technical requirements, willingness to adapt and meet your specific needs, accurate billing and a mutually enjoyable work relationship.

A translation sample is useful only if you are hiring an individual translator to perform well defined translation-only tasks and you are assured that all translation tasks forwarded to this translator will be executed only by her.

When choosing a translation company, replace your microscope with a kaleidoscope. Focus it on your vendor’s macro abilities — client successes, background, culture, ethics and the project manager assigned to you, rather than a small translation sample. The end result will be much more appealing!

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