What are the metrics for evaluating translations?
We have established again and again that the ‘quality’ of a translation is very hard to measure absolutely. Beyond certain objective indices that everyone can agree on (linguistic mistakes, correct use of industry terminology, correct use of terminology specified by the client) it very often comes down to a question of (subjective) preference. There are several ways, however, of evaluating the quality and impact of translations, beyond the text itself.
They fall into four broad categories:
Does it meet your specifications?
A key point is whether the translation, and the translator, responds to your specifications. These may be fundamentally your subjective choices, but in the moment that you communicate them clearly to your language service provider (LSP) they become objective! You should be sure that your LSP is working following the glossaries and style guides laid out in your localisation and/or brand kit. This also makes it easier to compare the work of different LSPs and translators.
The translation industry is cost-driven and unregulated. If an LSP actively seeks external validation, this can be taken as a good sign. You should thus check which translators’ associations they belong to. A very important consideration is the ISO: 9001 certification, which speaks volumes for about an LSP’s commitment to providing outstanding service.
Vertical industry metrics
In recent years many industries have promulgating their own global standards for translation and globalisation. For example, The Society for Automotive Engineers developed the J2450 “Quality metric for language translation of service information”; and General Motors specifies J2450 in its contracts.
But the best method of evaluating translations?
Test it on humans!
This is the ultimate test of how successful a translation has been, and if it does what it was supposed to do. In the case of marketing collateral, show it to an unbiased member of the target demographic. If it is a technical manual, run it past an engineer! This is also a good way to streamline the future translation process, as it will enable you to communicate better what your needs are to your LSP. Ideally, there should be a continual feedback loop between the two parties (LSP and client). Good communication is the best way to guarantee a lengthy and productive relationship.