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A New Look at an Old Question by an Ancient Project Manager

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Senior Project Manager Tina Wuelfing isn’t really ancient. But she is experienced and this article published in industry e-magazine ClientSide News shares valuable insights. The article outlines the unique offerings of a translation company vendor, and steps clients can take to ensure a successful partnership.

An actual quote from a client:

“It seems unbelievable that this huge project was accomplished on time. I was asking a lot of you, and you did a great job. Not only did it get done, you managed to make me feel like it really could be done, which made me calm in a sea of mounting pressure from my senior management. I have realized the comfort of using professional services like yours. It really is true that, when you turn a big job over to the best, you can let some of your worry go.”

The client who wrote these words is not a localization professional. Still, her organization assigned her the task of verifying the languages and text for the labeling and packaging of a new product, one that would ship to a multitude of locales.

This client lacked the experience with foreign languages to either organize the project or even identify the languages in question. Her goal was to accomplish the task, and then move on to her area of expertise—which clearly did not involve determining that Dutch and Netherlands are a language and a country, respectively, not two languages.

Clients in this situation are neither uncommon nor unwelcome in the localization business. As a localization company, we take pride and satisfaction in our willingness and ability to rescue such clients from what can be an uninvited, unwelcome, and frequently baffling project nightmare.

Of course, we also work with many client-side localization professionals. These client professionals deliver years of experience and accumulated wisdom to the localization process.

Still, the “agency question” can and does arise: if an organization has invested resources in creating and training a localization department or even a single knowledgeable point-of-contact, why incur additional expenses by securing the services of a localization vendor?After all, having accomplished the estimable task of planning for globalization (preparing your product and materials with internationalization in mind, knowing your subject matter, and knowing the market), finishing the job is basically a matter of perusing translators’ rйsumйs, determining fields of expertise and levels of experience, and then going forward with the localization step. Right?

Perhaps. While there may be cases and scenarios where these assumptions hold true, a closer look at the details will reveal that many benefits still can be gained from the services of an experienced localization vendor.

What Can a Localization Vendor Offer?

A significant advantage to using a localization vendor is the vendor’s experience and access to translation professionals: The heart of the localization process resides with the translator. Setting aside the time involved in evaluating and selecting translators, the challenge lies in developing the evaluation and selection criteria. Some of these criteria include:

  • Accreditation or certification
  • Technical or educational background
  • Availability and scheduling
  • Ability to work within your application
  • Access to compatible translation tools
  • Accessibility (Able to use FTP? Able to receive overnight packages? Nine hours ahead of you?)

Which of these criteria should carry the most weight? It depends on the project.

Localization vendors are uniquely able to determine the best translators for your project: This means that the agency might assume additional work and time, to ensure that translators best qualified for the project are assigned. For example, a translator who might be the best match for your project might be unable to work in your application, might be traveling and only reachable via cyber cafйs, or might not be degreed in the subject matter in question, but might have years of experience in the subject.

Localization vendors have clout that you likely don’t have: Only a handful of companies have localization departments whose structure and activities mirror an agency’s. Chances are, you don’t schedule translations on a continuous basis. We do, and that equates to leverage when competing for resources.

Localization vendors know which matches were made in heaven and which were not: Translators are human. They are professionals and are justifiably proud of their skills. However, they also have individual philosophical approaches to their craft. They might or might not work well with others—or at least with some others. The best translator for the project and the best reviewer for the project might clash on issues of style, word choice, or even personality. You likely will discover this when faced with pages of complete rewrites, passionate outbursts, and conflicting opinions. We know from experience which combinations of personnel will yield effective reviews and efficient processes. Additionally, in worst-case scenarios, we can call in any number of additional consultants to serve as tiebreakers.

Localization vendors have access to additional resources: Again, translators are human. They can fall ill, have family emergencies, or overcommit. How quickly would you be able to reassign work if one or more of your resources dropped out of the picture? What if the scope of work suddenly increased? An agency should have the resources available to ramp up and save your project.

Localization vendors can filter questions and manage the exchange of information: Do not underestimate the time involved in fielding translator questions and exchanging information. It is frequently the most time-consuming part of the localization process. Apart from handling the purely administrative task of distributing information—which may involve midnight phone calls to Russia, plus knowing which courier delivers to that small town in Argentina in fewer than five days, and knowing when the translator traveling in Mexico will check in at a cyber cafй—a localization vendor’s editorial department is likely able to field many of the questions that inevitably arise.

The probability and volume of translator questions, missing and essential reference materials, and revisions to source text can be expected to increase exponentially with the number of translators, reviewers, and editors working on the project.

Localization vendors can organize and manage your in-country review: In-country reviews can go smoothly. However, experience shows the following:

Your expectations from in-country reviewers What you actually receive
Do not rewrite/editorialize source text. Six additional paragraphs of translated text that do not correspond to the source text
Use revision tracking. A rewritten document with no change tracking
Do not rename electronic files. A file named DOCUMENT.DOC with no indication of the language/locale of the sender
Do not handwrite revisions. Several blotchy faxed pages with microscopically small handwritten comments
Send a finished electronic file as an email attachment. Two, or possibly three, separate emails from different individuals in Spain, all of whom disagree with the others’ changes
Coordinate your review with your colleagues and send only one edited document. A text-format email written in the target language, lacking accents, and containing a general critique of quality with no specific suggestions

This is the moment when you might find yourself wishing that you had partnered with an agency. Almost no one who isn’t a full-time localization manager has enough time for the tasks associated with in-country review. It is part of the job of the localization vendor to warn you before it’s too late. Or, after it’s too late, a good vendor can assist you in untangling the mess.

Localization vendors have access to tools and have experience using them: A localization tool specialist can bridge the gap between theory and practice. The specialist develops an ongoing relationship with the product support staff, helping ensure that tools are utilized properly and that problems are solved quickly and efficiently.

Localization vendors have localization-savvy graphic arts professionals on site: Practitioners of multilingual desktop publishing occupy an important niche in the graphic arts industry, and deservedly so. The graphic challenges inherent in localization are beyond the experience of most art departments, challenges involving text expansion, font support, varying operating systems, and culturally appropriate graphics. Having such professionals on board and available during the planning and execution of the project can make the difference between a successful project and one that fails to deliver on time. These professionals have the experience to ask the right questions. For example, an experienced localization graphic artist will know that simply checking that Arabic reads from right to left does not necessarily mean that it is displaying correctly. Would your graphics department know that?

Localization vendors have editorial resources who are trained to detect problems in target language text: Your localization provider will have an editorial staff trained in the stylistic conventions of target language text and in reviewing such text for omissions and additions. English-speaking proofreaders and editors might introduce errors into a finished product by assumptively removing spaces before colons in a French translation, or by changing the words in a Spanish subheading to initial caps, or by converting commas back into English decimal points in many languages.

Steps to a Successful Partnership

Once you have made the decision to collaborate with an agency, how should you go about selecting one? That is a separate discussion altogether, but briefly, beyond pricing, turnaround time, and references, it is worthwhile to explore the following issues:

  • What is included in the price per word?
  • Will you be working with someone who understands you?
  • If you are a project manager, will there be a counterpart at the agency? Will the counterpart be available to you on a continuing basis?
  • Can the vendor provide the reporting metrics you require? What type of project-tracking tools does the vendor use, and how quickly and effectively can the vendor provide updates?
  • What kind of post-project support is available?
  • Your vendor should be willing and able to assist you in ensuring that the end user is satisfied with the linguistic quality, the interface, and usability.

How Clients Can Help

You can greatly increase the probability of a successful partnership with your localization vendor(s) by providing the following:

  • A clear picture of your project goals, including how you expect to process the work, a definition of the end user, what resources are available (operating system, font support, applications, and so on), and whether you plan an in-country review.
  • Your hoped-for timeline, with interim milestones, padding for dealing with the unexpected, and flexibility.
  • Well-organized, logically named, and clearly identified source electronic files, with any corresponding hardcopies also neatly matched.
  • Reference material, including visual references, English glossaries, existing translation memories or glossaries, manuals, and when appropriate, an English version of the software being localized.
  • Your expectations regarding project status updates and reporting, and in what format you would prefer to receive them.


Clients have varying levels of experience: from the inexperienced non-volunteer who requires guidance to escape localization disaster, to the sophisticated professional who nodded sagely throughout this article. Both can benefit from developing a relationship with a translation agency. Indeed, for most organizations in most scenarios, the value add of an agency, which goes far beyond the realm of translation broker, is worth the investment.

About the author:

Tina Wuelfing has worked in the translation and localization industry since 1987. In her 16 years at McElroy Translation Company, she has held numerous positions. She draws on the diversity of this experience in her current capacity as Senior Project Manager. Tina obtained her Project Manager Professional certification in June 2002. Click here for a description of this internationally respected certification.

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