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What makes a language service provider outstanding?

The key differentiator between language service providers (LSPs) is the value they add to the translation process.

At one end of the scale, you have the classic ‘broker’, which outsources projects to freelancers at exploitative prices, and then forwards the finished translation on to the client – more than likely without checking it, and even more than likely invoicing twice what they pay the poor translator.

Working with companies like this is invariably a disaster for your business. The translations will be poor quality, and you will waste time and resources bringing them up to scratch. (Always assuming that you can, that is! If no-one in your company is in a position to check the translation, then you are in the hands of the translator, who will almost certainly be working to a punishing deadline for peanuts.) And you will get bored of hearing that the putative project manager is out of the office…

The middle range of translation agencies add value in different ways. Some of them will have a good review system, which enables them to remove most of the errors from the freelance translator’s work, as well as concentrate on the tone. Others will have the latest translation software, or concentrate on offering a linguistic consulting service to their clients, or focus their expertise on one particular area, such as website localisation.

These middle range LSPs all have something going for them and, under the right circumstances, are capable of producing a translation which you are basically happy with.

But let’s look at what makes an outstanding LSP so good, and why it is so important for your business to partner with an LSP which consistently exceeds your expectations.

One of the keys here is the length of the relationship you have – the broker treats every project as a one-off, no matter how often you go to them. An outstanding LSP will be developing your relationship from the outset, and will rapidly become so efficient at responding to your needs that they become indispensable to your business.

Here are a few criteria you should bear in mind when choosing an LSPRemember, if even one of these benchmarks is not met, the LSP in question is not leading-edge.

Proactive customer service. Prompt responses in the early stages (qualification, quoting) are a good indication that you have found a reliable partner. Anyone who takes more than 24 hours to respond to an e-mail is probably not very well organised or customer-focused.

Research. When projects are analysed and your expectations are taken into consideration at the front end, chances are that the final result will be top quality.

Use of industry- or client-specific terminology. Project glossaries are created to drive consistent use of key terms.

Technical review. Translations are inspected for technical accuracy and readability in the target language.

Proofreading. Documents are reviewed by professional linguists for accuracy, grammar and punctuation.

Formatting. Translated texts are formatted to match the original layout and design. Documents are prepared for printing or for digital transfer.

Guaranteed delivery. A solid track record of timely deliveries will give you confidence that a supplier will deliver your project before the deadline. Ask your supplier what percentage of projects they deliver on time.

• Find out where translators are located. All languages are in a state of constant flux, and translators who live in the target market often deliver much better results.

• Make sure editors are well educated, professional linguists, aware of regional variants, cultural nuances and standard industry terminology.

• Discover whether the provider has checks and balances in place to validate translators’ work.

• Good translation agencies will have tight quality standards in place to isolate and blacklist inadequate translators. Look out for ISO9001 certification as a guarantee of quality assurance and compliance with internal processes.

But one of the key differentiators is the added-value your LSP offers. Proactive language providers will find creative ways of making your life easier, and will often offer services related to translation such as:

Desktop publishing (DTP). It makes sense to have multilingual websites in HTML, catalogues and brochures in InDesign or QuarkXpress, and retail package designs or museum signs in CorelDRAW or Adobe Photoshop.

Localisation. This is the process of translating a product into different languages or adapting a language for a specific country or region. Offer your website in British and American English.

Language consultancy. Advice for developing a language strategy before expanding to global markets. Linguists conduct audits to determine your foreign language needs in terms of tasks, global market and communication flow.

In short, the best supplier is the one you trust. But if they can answer yes to all of the above questions, then you know that you have a very good basis to develop that trust.

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