5 Tips for Choosing a Translation Service Provider

More than 20 years ago, cartoonist Peter Steiner created one of the most famous New Yorker cartoons of all time.  It features two dogs in an office, one sitting at a computer. The caption reads: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Steiner’s cartoon is still relevant today.  With so much business conducted without meeting face to face, it’s hard to know whom you’re actually working with.   This is especially true when it comes to translation services. The barriers to entry to put up a website and market translation services are very low. On top of that, customers can rarely directly judge the quality of services, as it is unlikely they can read the finished product.

If you’re in the market for translation services, here are five things to consider before selecting a company to trust with your brand.

Can They Meet Your Needs?

Both you and your provider must be crystal clear on what you want to achieve. Website localization from English to Chinese for a consumer goods company and translation of contracts and financial records for M&A due diligence are two completely different situations and both require a knowledge-set far beyond just the languages. Ensuring that your business and project requirements are aligned with the capabilities of your translation service provider is critical to creating a long-lasting partnership.

Should You Rely on a Test Translation?

Most translation service providers are happy to perform short test translations for potential clients as a way to demonstrate the quality of their work. Test translations, however, aren’t always the best predictor of capability or long-term translation quality. On one hand, you run the risk that the translation company will spend much more time on your test than with the real work that follows. On the other hand, a one-time test doesn’t show what a company is capable of once they have set up a customized team and process to handle your specific need.

Furthermore, since language is subjective, you should offer guidelines to translators before the test. If available, provide examples of translations in the tone and style you (or your reviewer) prefer. Prepare a glossary of key terminology. Be clear on your objectives for the test. Are you looking for a highly literal translation or one adapted to the specific market and customer?

Given a one-shot opportunity to impress, it should not be a surprise that the translator carefully selected to perform the test may not be on the team that ultimately does the work. Instead, ask about the linguists who will be assigned to your project. Are they subject-matter experts or are they just generalists? What kind of processes and checks does the company use to insure a consistent level of quality and performance? What happens if the volume is much larger than one translator can handle alone?

Does the Company Have a Quality Control Process?

Since the quality of a translation can be highly subjective, there are techniques a company can use to consistently meet your expectations. Will they use a glossary and style guide?  How are translators selected and evaluated? Will an editor (a qualified linguist) review each sentence of each document or are they just proofreading or spot-checking? Do they stand behind their work with a warranty?


It is a rare situation where cost is not carefully scrutinized. Given that there is surprising variability in prices for translation services, does a low price mean good value or low quality? The unit of pricing is typically by the source word. This price is dependent upon the process, the skills of the translators and editors – the price is higher for complex or unusual subjects – and the amount of additional services required. With pricing that is “too good to be true,” the maxim caveat emptor applies. Regardless of price, make sure that the quote is fully inclusive. Does it include a separate editorial review process? Project management time? What about the time to format the final document or review the webpage in final form to make sure the translated text displays properly? If the price is really low, are they using machine translation and asking a translator to fix only the egregious errors?

Speed and Ease of Translation

Meeting deadlines is a principal concern for companies and should be one of the main areas of discussion with any potential translation provider. It is fundamental for translators to translate efficiently, reliably and on-time. A timeframe for completion should be clearly agreed at the very beginning of any project.

In summary, finding the right translation provider and a capable team of linguists that can reliably deliver high-quality translation can be a daunting task. By considering the tips mentioned above, your company will soon be on the right track to build partnership with the right translation service firm that can meet and exceed your company’s needs and goals.

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