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Dierk Seeburg photoAbstract:

Using a systematic approach in translation can help achieve better results. Abiding by a few key principles will lead to translators with better skills who can produce higher quality translations which leads to higher customer satisfaction and higher rates of return.


Dierk Seeburg is Senior Web Content Administrator with Choice Hotels International in Phoenix, Arizona, with responsibilities in process/standards oversight, translation, analysis/scoping of mono- and multilingual content and quality assurance of English-German web content. Prior to joining Choice he obtained a Master's in biology and served as an adjunct faculty member, teaching undergraduates. A native of Germany, Dierk has been a freelance translator and interpreter for 16 years.

Feature Article:


This article stems from my experience over the past five years as an in-house translator at Choice Hotels International, one of the largest and most successful lodging franchisors in the world. It was inspired by H. Randall Morgan Jr. and his tireless work to elevate quality in the translation industry. It draws on contributions in Internet forums by colleagues too many to mention. Its aim is to help colleagues in their efforts to provide quality work by providing tips and tricks as well as guidelines established at our company during my tenure there. With a background in science, it is no surprise that when I ended up in the translation business I strove to apply a systematic approach, in a way, to apply the scientific method to the translation madness. This was born out of the need for quality standards that could be used across all language teams. This article deals with a few key principles which will lead to more satisfied customers, bound to return when they need another translation. The steps outlined below touch on preparation, translation, localization, primary quality assurance, version control, secondary quality assurance, editing, and delivery. Throughout the article, preference was given to examples involving indo-European languages solely based on the author's familiarity and not because of the author's preference of any language or locale over another.

Preparation for Better Quality Assurance (QA)


As the old saying goes, “Preparation is half the battle”. A well-prepared mind enables the translator to focus on the task at hand. Focus can be achieved only when the translator is immersed in the context of the translation, and recreating this context in another language is a skill honed over time. One way to hone this skill is by being receptive to insights from other translators and translations. Analyzing and evaluating different translations to acquire passive knowledge becomes one of the pillars of quality in translation.
Translators need to be able to write fluently and correctly in both source and target languages as well as acquire comprehensive knowledge of both source and target languages through general and specialized readings. With increased experience translators can pick up on expressions, idioms, and specific vocabulary.
Another essential ingredient is the translator's awareness of the culture of the people whose language he/she translates, i.e., being familiar with the customs and social settings of the source and target language speakers, also with different registers, styles of speech, and social stratification of both source and target languages, e.g., by listening to the radio, watching TV, reading websites, newspapers, mailing lists, etc. Familiarity with the syntax of indirect speech and various figures of speech in the source language such as hyperbole, irony, meiosis, and implicatures /entailment are essential, as well. Moreover, translators need an understanding of how linguistic choices in texts reflect relationships between senders and receivers, such as power relationships, and how texts are sometimes used to maintain or create social inequalities.

Project Management

Project management plays an integral part in the process of translation. It can help translators focus on translation instead of coordinating graphics translations, accounting for character expansion, or solving double-byte issues. One of the most important tasks of the project manager is to communicate changes to the source text when receiving updates through version control checks and the like, and to manage this so-called “scope creep” appropriately. All the minutiae of the project need to be carefully recorded. They include:

  • due dates for translations and/or their respective sections
  • reference numbers for project identification, e.g., P.O. numbers
  • locations of previous translations, if available
  • required reference materials such as style guides, general and topical glossaries, and applicable internal and external standards
  • recommended mono- and bilingual dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, internal or external discussion boards or topic-specific websites in both source and target languages

Quality Assurance in Translation (T9n)


In order to be able to improve the quality of translation we have to first look at the aim of translation. The goal of translation is to convey thoughts, ideas, and emotions by way of deconstruction, analysis, and recreation in the target language, in effect, transcreation. One way to make that easier is to employ the appropriate tools.


When looking at the parts that make up the process of translation, one should consider using a CAT tool. CAT is short for computer aided translation and refers to those tools that aid the translator in the translation process. The benefits of these tools have been expounded elsewhere at length and can take the form of increasing consistency by reusing partially or even entirely previously translated content, be that words, phrases, sentences, or even paragraphs, and, thereby, eliminating having to translate the same phrases over again. In addition, adding newly translated content to the existing body of previously translated content archived through the translation tool increases its overall reusable translation memory and thus improves the quality of the translation.


Depending on the type of document to be translated, the translator should use the most suitable translation tool for the job: Software localization tools are ill-suited for FrameMaker files the same as executable files are ill-suited for processing in CAT tools designed for desktop publishing documents. Translation quality will suffer, if, to paraphrase a metaphor, one's translation tool is a hammer and all documents end up looking like a nail. Document-dependent details need special attention, e.g., if the document is a spreadsheet, select the appropriate cell on each tab and the appropriate tab before saving since that is usually how the spreadsheet will open and be visible to the customer.

Source text

Once the document is ready for translation the source text needs to be analyzed - questions the translator should ask him-/herself are:

  • Do I understand the source text?
  • More specifically, do I understand the topic at hand, the context, imagery, metaphors, similes, puns, etc.?
  • Does the source text make sense to me?

One way to check this is to use back-translation, i.e., after translating a passage from the source text into the target language, translating it back into the source language. This can serve as a sanity check to test one's understanding of the source.

While reading the source text it should be checked for errors, inconsistencies, ambiguities, etc. Consulting with teammates of the same language team or with those of another language team can help clarify items like these or others along the entire translation process. In case of irreconcilable disagreements between team members, majority rules; if that is unacceptable to the overruled member, other language teams should be consulted for advice; if no solution can be found, consult management.

Contacting the source text maintainer early in the process will avoid extra work later in case the source text is amended or corrected, which may prompt translators to have to go back and update the translation. In case of inconsistencies in the source language, consult with the source code maintainer to resolve the issue. If the source is translated into multiple languages updates like these can eat up valuable project time not allocated at the beginning of the project. When it is not economical, an error log should be maintained and communicated to the source text maintainer to handle resolution of the errors.
Another item to square away before translation can begin is internationalization (I18n). This is preparation of certain parts of the source text before localizing, e.g., allowing for different word order in long dates. This can be critical during software localization where field or window sizes must be adapted to the needed size.

Another item to cover before starting to translate is researching the intended audience. A patent translation should not be translated like a personal letter, or vice versa.

Quality of the translation can be influenced also by the style used. If, e.g., literary devices like alliteration, assonance, rhyme, meter, parallelism, and their combinations are used in the source text, then efforts should be made to transcreate and use an equivalent in the target language. If it cannot be translated, transpose: paint a picture to be taken in with all five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste, e.g., “As sunrise approaches, the aroma of bacon sizzling on the grill is a welcome start to any morning on the breakfast patio.” In cases like these, and others, a two-phase approach may be helpful. First a rough translation is produced, then the rough translation is fine-tuned.

The next item to pay particular attention to are trade names, e.g., “Comfort Inn”. These should never be translated as they are protected marks which refer to a product or service or branded name. Included in these can be graphics that contain a trade name. Other text within graphics, however, should be translated. Graphics translations make for a much more integrated and more consistent customer experience. When translating graphics take care to check for size requirements, style, color, etc., and coordinate with the person handling either the creation or modification of the graphics. Use accented characters, e.g., “ü” in graphics, Word files, e-mails, as opposed to HTML, XML which often require Unicode representation for special characters, accents, etc., e.g., “ü”. Lastly, graphics, as well as text, can be linked to other documents or web pages. It is good business practice to not include anything else but the link text in the visible link, e.g., no commas, periods, etc., which are not part of the link.

Quality Assurance in Localization (L10n)

Localization comprises making accommodations for certain ways of organizing or laying out text that are particular to a locale. Locales are geographic regions that can lie within or sometimes cross country borders.

There are a number of items to check for during localization, as there are:

  • Dates and times and their interstitial punctuation, spacing, and ordering of day, month, and year
  • Currency and whether they are translated, e.g., “Swiss Franks”, or not, e.g., “Euro”
  • Measurements such as length and weight and their particular units of measurement, e.g., yards vs. meters (particular standards may cover whether to abandon the source unit, if it is unknown in the locale, or to add it in parentheses for clarification)
  • Alphabetical order, e.g., in lists where the appearance may differ depending on the translation of the term – case in point: “Germany vs. “Deutschland” in a list appears in a different place alphabetically
  • Geographic terminology such as city names which may or may not be translated in some languages, e.g., “Munich” as a translation of the German city of “München” vs. Mainz which remains untranslated
  • Names which are generally untranslated, especially registered ones
  • Idioms and colloquialisms, e.g., “nuts and bolts” which may have different meanings depending on locale or even context
  • Terms from other languages, e.g., loan words which may or may not be understood by the audience of the particular text
  • Regionalisms and cross-cultural references, e.g., “fast like a dog/horse/the wind” which may need to be transposed
  • Male and female references, e.g., names of professions, may need to be transformed into generic ones or vice versa

Quality Assurance in Primary QA

One of the mantras easily applied to translations is, of course, “to check and check again”. This initial check often pays dividends when errors are discovered that were made elsewhere, thus providing the opportunity to improve on the text at hand, as well as other ones past and future.
Once the translation is complete, a spell check should be performed using official sources as much as possible, e.g., L'Académie française for French, La Real Academia Española for Spanish, das Institut für deutsche Sprache/der Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung for German, the Japanese Ministry of Cultural Affairs/the Japanese Electric Dictionary and their associated dictionaries. Other items to look out for include:

  • False cognates, e.g., “complicity” vs. “complicité”
  • False friends, e.g., English “bald” vs. German “bald”
  • Discriminatory/offensive terminology
  • Topical context, e.g., hospitality vs. finance
  • Linguistic patterns, e.g., repetition, redundancy, alliteration, etc.: 'John, where Jim had had “had,”, had had “had had.” “Had had” had had the approval of the editor.'

File level QA

The first level is file level QA covering all aspects related to the files containing the content:

  • File type: Is it a .doc file? Should it be? Can it be opened by applications that can read that file type, in particular, the default application?
  • File format: If it is an HTML file, does it include the document format declaration at the top of the file? Can it be opened by applications that can read that file format?
  • File extension: Is there a file name extension? Should there be? In other words, does the file name follow standard naming conventions or those for this particular project, including language extensions for the target language?
  • Does the file reside in the correct place for proper contextual QA or does it need to be moved to a different server and different directory so it can be accessed together with the other files that are part of the project?
  • Are the correct META data contained in the file, e.g., is the META description present and translated, if instructions called for its translation? Is the language tag present which provides identification of the language within the file?

Content level QA

The second level is content-level QA, the meat of the matter to most translation reviewers. A helpful setting for this review is to provide for a stereoscopic view of the material, i.e., side-by-side placement of the source and target texts which allows for better comparison review. The first thing that may jump out this way immediately is whether the target text is complete. Other items to check for include:

  • Contextual consistency: Did the translator correctly understand the source and put the translation into the correct context?
  • Mistranslations: Does the target text express the same concept as in the source text as can be revealed through back-translation?
  • Additions/omissions: Is everything there? Are all the syntactical pieces present and in their place?
  • Terminology: Are all terms in the original reflected by their correct equivalents in the target text?
  • Rendering: Does everything display properly? Do all graphics appear in their place, and does the text flow around them as it should? Is all source formatting included in the target text?
Flow QA

At this level, items to check for include those which may enter the realm of the subjective. As much as possible, this should be attenuated by using objective criteria:

  • Register: Has the audience been taken into account? Should it be addressed formally or informally? What grammatical and syntactical consequences does that bring about?
  • Freedom of translation: Is the text undertranslated, i.e., does it sound awkward because it has been translated too literally? Or has been overtranslated and the intent of the original was not preserved in the translation?
  • Cultural: Have cultural norms and customs of the locale been observed? Do particular words or terms or even graphics and their colors have the potential to be insulting in locales outside the one for which the target text has been created?
  • Cohesion: Are the concepts underlying the source text expressed such that they fit together well within the constructs of clauses and sub-clauses?
  • References: Can contextual, implicit, and explicit references present in the source text be conveyed similarly in the target text, or does the need arise to search for equivalents?
  • Consistency: Is the same terminology used throughout the target text as it is throughout the source text? In other words, if “resort” is used once, is it always used to express the corresponding term in the source text? If not, are there reasons such as cultural norms which may prohibit the repetitive use of the same term?
  • Ambiguity: Does the target text express clearly the concepts of the source text or are some of the terms used open to interpretation and possibly ambiguity?
  • Style: Is the source text part of a poem, but the target text reads like a patent?

Grammar level QA

Special care should be taken in case of non-phonetic languages where words sound the same but are grammatically completely different. Syntactical nuances require special care as concepts may be changed as a consequence, e.g., “the hotel is beautifully decorated” vs. “the beautiful hotel is decorated”. Other items requiring attention:

  • Punctuation: There is a reason books like “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” appear on bestseller lists: punctuation is important since it can change the meaning of a sentence entirely.
  • Speling (!): If the target text is not spelled correctly, the reader will not place his trust in any of its content, either.
  • Diacritics: Äçcèñts can sometimes change the meaning of a word and thus of a sentence entirely which is why great care is required.
  • Upper-/lowercase: This may be the only distinction between the generic and a brand name, e.g., “Hotel” vs. “hotel”
  • Word form: Is the meaning of the sentence altered when a different word form is used, e.g., “touristic” vs. “tourist”
  • Usage: Does the context require a particular word or term which may only appear together with another word or term, e.g., “to perform a quality check” vs. “to do a quality check”.
When uncertain about a particular item one should not hesitate to consult with another source, be that a dictionary, thesaurus, glossary, standards document, or a colleague or other authority. “To err is human”, and only if we realize our mistakes can we learn from them. Our goal should be that whatever we translate must withstand the scrutiny of publication and the watchful eye of the reader.

Quality Assurance in Version Control

A version control system allows one to roll back to whatever version is needed, based on criteria such as dates, times, authors, tickets, P.O. numbers, file tags, and many more. For a more in-depth review of this topic, I refer the reader to the respective Internet forums on version control systems, as well as content management systems with built-in version control. Before hand-off to secondary QA, checklists or other tools can be used to check off all required tasks such as translation, localization, primary QA, version control, etc.

Once all files have been checked in, the person or team performing secondary QA should be notified. This can happen manually or automatically in the case of content management systems.

Quality Assurance in Secondary QA

All translated materials must be reviewed by another person, including informal translation requests by e-mail, etc. While primary QA review is performed by the translator, secondary QA review is performed by the translator assigned to QA review, covering the same details reviewed during primary QA. If tertiary QA review is performed, this is done by the QA department, mostly for general content, layout, and functionality in case of websites, software, etc. Unless otherwise arranged, all reviews should be performed after all needed files have been uploaded on a test server to replicate the production environment. Use a checklist where appropriate or necessary for files tested, reviewer name, date and time, etc. Notify the secondary reviewer of the location of the test notes, if available, the URL(s) and port(s), and the deadline, if not a standard item.

At the end of the process, the reviewer should notify the translator of the results of the review such that the translator can incorporate specific comments and suggestions, in particular:

  • What? The passage in question
  • Why? The reason for the suggestion
  • How? The way the translation can be improved
  • Good! Pointing out an especially well translated phrase or sentence

Quality Assurance in Final Editing

After comments and suggestions have been communicated to the translator it is incumbent on him/her to incorporate them during final editing. Items under dispute must be resolved during this phase using the process used during translation as mentioned above. Upon resolution, files can be uploaded to the test server, checked into version control systems, and tagged for a particular date or release.

The final review ensures that all edits are complete and the final translation sounds native, not translated. The best translation is one which no one knows it is.

Quality Assurance in Delivery

Proper communication at the end of the project is just as important as at the beginning, so care should be taken to notify all involved parties of aspects required for possible follow-up. The secondary QA reviewer is notified when all final edits are complete. If possible, separate notifications by individual translators or language teams are consolidated by project management. This includes notifications of developers, QA department and others. If deadlines cannot be met, then notifications should be sent out stating as such to give those notified the opportunity to make arrangements for any delays in further processing. Remember: Missing a deadline is at best an inconvenience for the recipient, and at worst delays the release of the entire project to production!


H. Randall Morgan, Jr., "Quality-First Management in Translation and Localization", 46th Annual ATA Conference, <http://www.atanet.org/conf/conf2005/abstracts.htm#ABC-13>

Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books, 2004

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