Guardians of translation quality How some project managers fail to deliver quality translations because of cost considerations

  • Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!

    If translations are a hammer, then language skills are the nails – indispensable to convey a message from one language in another. Of course translators should master a couple of languages in order to deliver the best possible translations. At the same time PMs should be the guardians of a translation’s quality. And that is where many project managers fail.

    Everyday tasks of a translation project manager

    The project manager’s toolbox is filled with many tools: project management tools, email, CAT tools and at least moderate comprehension of their native language and English. Their primary job is to set out jobs, to manage projects and deadlines, and to keep in touch with clients and vendors. However, in between all these tasks they also need to do some bookkeeping, problem solving and quality checks. These all belong to the everyday tasks of translation project managers. Depending on the size of the agency they work for there are also additional tasks. Where many project managers at bigger agencies are in charge of one particular language combination or even one particular client, PMs at smaller agencies often need to handle more language pairs and clients. Sometimes they are even editors of the tasks they divide among translators – checking and editing the quality of translations themselves.
    At the same time, developments in the market place are influencing the day to day tasks of PMs, requiring them to show skills other than those they had to use before. The increasing demand to lower prices, for instance, requires them to deal flexibly with project tasks, while the decline of minimum fees for small tasks even requires them to translate jobs in multiple languages on their own – all to avoid unprofitable orders.
    Google Translate as a first resort

    So project managers are juggling many balls, all to keep up the quality of their agencies and ensure clients are satisfied. That is not often that easy. The increasing pressure can burn out PMs and makes them vulnerable to failing. The ingredients for failure to deliver quality are not only extrinsic however. There have been multiple occasions on which project managers obviously showed a lack of understanding of their native language. Other project managers have even resorted to translation engines like Google Translate to have small jobs translated, and asked translators to check the translation afterwards.

    Last month I received an email with “Quick QA favour” as the subject line. The PM sent the email below:

    The “one sentence” in the attachment turned out to be a short sentence on a card. It was obvious that the client – whether it was the PM or the end client – used a translation engine to generate those translations. In order to avoid costs, they generated their request as a quick QA favor although it could have been brought as a small translation task (probably with minimum fees). I am not sure about the other languages but in Dutch “Bright and happy” was translated incorrectly in this context.

    Similar requests happen more often. Fortunately, there are many great project managers, but there is also a whole category of people who call themselves “project managers” but are fairly incompetent. Sometimes project manager even come up with queries about translations after they have been submitted. It then turns out that they have used Google Translate to check the quality of a string, and are trying to relieve their confusion by asking the translator for an explanation about a certain translation.
    Quality checks by quality fails

    Even worse however, is when project managers do not understand the spelling and grammar rules of their own language. That might sound ridiculous but I have had a couple of experiences in which project managers showed a clear lack of any grammatical conventions. In some agencies, where project managers also have a role as an in-house translator, they even submit translations which should fail a grammar check. That is a poor sign, especially if those project managers are checking the quality of translations. What will the quality of translations degrade to if the people who check quality do not know how to spell, while at the same time they are taking an increasing role in translations because of cost considerations?

    Losing project managers

    Being a project manager is not an easy job – especially if you are at a small agency. It should nevertheless be paramount that a project manager at least masters their native language, and be good at some other languages they are in charge for. If a particular language is difficult for a project manager to master, they should resort to professional translators in order to deliver satisfactory quality. If money is an issue the problem of not mastering a language should not be cascaded down to translators. Sometimes losing project managers is better for our industry than project managers that try to uphold a certain standard they can never reach. Translators who fail to deliver satisfactory quality are often fired. For project managers to avoid that there are only two options: mastering the relevant language or limiting their involvement in translations and quality checks altogether.

    Pieter Beens

    About Pieter Beens

    Freelance translator English-Dutch. Works for high-profile clients worldwide. Professional. Punctual. Passionate.

    2 thoughts on “Guardians of translation quality

    1. I think having a background education in translation or just foreign languages often does the trick. While there are PMs without such a background who do a wonderful job (it really comes down to organization skills and respect), when issues arise, most of the time it’s because they don’t actually realize the impact of their actions. Not everyone who takes care of internal HR knows that either

    2. Also advisable for PMs is to have a brain. ‘Cause this:
      “It then turns out that they have used Google Translate to check the quality of a string, and are trying to relieve their confusion by asking the translator for an explanation”-
      is beyond stupid lol

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