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Translation review best practices: How to build a quality process

For localization practitioners, it’s obvious why translation quality matters – it’s the key that unlocks great multilingual customer experience.

But when building a review step for translations, you can often run into problems. Perhaps “Translation quality” simply doesn’t resonate with colleagues in sales, marketing, and customer success.

Here’s the thing: translations affect customer experience. CX can suffer due to poor translations, so they need to be reviewed for any potential mistakes. Rookie errors like typos are obvious, but when you’re translating meaning rather than words, the challenge is ensuring the message is accurate and aligned with your distinct style and brand voice. 

Here, we unpack everything you need to know about translation review and give you an example strategy of how to build a linguistic quality workflow. 

    What is translation review?

    Translation review is the process of examining a translation to ensure that it accurately conveys the intended meaning of the original text. Translation review consists of:

    a) Proofreading. Ensuring there are no spelling and/or grammatical issues. It’s possible to automate this process almost entirely in some cases (which we’ll discuss in later sections). 

    b) Linguistic review. Ensuring quality, consistency, tone, and style. This requires input from a human reviewer who can objectively evaluate quality based on guidelines and target language conventions. 

    This process is typically performed by a skilled language professional who has expertise in both the source and target languages, as well as the subject matter being translated.

    Today, we have quality control models and different workflows that help us avoid common issues and ensure we strike a balance between legal compliance, jargon, and a consistent brand voice.

    When to use translation review and why

    The entire customer experience hinges on translations. 

    For content to resonate, translators are continuously making considerations regarding word choice, sentence structure, and overall flow of the content.

    Some content types require that translations are 100% accurate, some require creatively translating a message, and others don’t fall into either category. The level of review that you’ll need will depend on the content and its purpose. 

    Here are the three main content buckets that will give you a general sense of the review process needed:

    1. Low visibility + low importance →  Automated QA

    Not all content is created equal. You might not always need the highest quality; you need what will work for you according to the intended use – being effective means striking a balance between resources and results.

    Content like internal documentation, customer support articles, and FAQs don’t require perfect style and consistency. They need to be effective, meaning your customer can access the necessary information to solve their problem.

    For most content of low visibility and importance, automated QA will likely be sufficient to get the job done. We’ll cover how you can incorporate automated QA into your workflow below.  

    2. High visibility + high importance →  Human review

    For high visibility/high priority content like website copy, marketing or advertising copy, and sales collateral, you’ll want to be sure that your company’s distinct style and voice comes across just right. 

    Marketing localization is an exercise in technique and creativity for translators. Writers have to cram the intended message (the essence of the text) into a few words, and those words have to be just as impactful for the target audience as they are in the source text.

    Most people wrongly assume that short texts need less time to be translated – it’s “only a couple of words.” But that couple of words can make or break a promotional campaign if not translated properly.

    Fun Fact: When Pepsi was promoting its product in China, they came up with the slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life.” When translated to Chinese, it ended up as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Companies from small to large are not immune to making translation mistakes and they should be hyper aware of potential missteps when presenting their products to local audiences. 

    If you want your localized content to work well in other countries, you’ll need to involve your localization team from the early stages and implement a human review step to ensure top-notch linguistic quality. Not using professional human reviews will lead to increased revision cycles, inevitable headaches down the road, and in the worst case, brand erosion.

    Note: For content in highly regulated environments like fintech and life sciences, where information, wording, and accuracy are vital, there is simply no wiggle room for any margin of error. Use professional human review.  

    3. All other content  →  Automated QA + partial human review

    For (most of) your other content, the key is to balance your budget, technical capabilities, and quality standards. 

    Do you have a low pass score for language quality to meet your company’s standards?

    If so, you can use automated QA tools and in-house resources to get feedback from internal stakeholders. 

    Are you primarily translating simple text such as buttons or other product UI needs?

    If yes, then automated QA is a cost-effective solution that can work well when combined with partial human QA. 

    Prioritize time in areas that build foundations, such as optimizing tooling, and areas that evaluate the results of that work, like receiving feedback.

    How do I build a workflow around translation review? 

    Step 1: Define

    In this phase, the key is to make sure everyone is aligned on style guides, glossaries, and the team responsible for the review. Without defining these, quality remains subjective, and it will be difficult for your language partner to meet your expectations. 

    1. Define the style guide

    Generally, mature companies will have a language lead for each language they operate in. They are responsible for defining style guides, glossaries, and translation memories.

    Companies that aren’t as mature usually work with an LSP to adapt their general guidelines for each country. Here’s how it can be achieved according to Rachel Ferris at Acclaro:

    “The LSP should collaborate with you to create detailed glossaries and style guides to ensure consistency of niche terminology, style, voice, and incorporate target audience information.” A glossary and style guide are key components of the language assets that you will build with your LSP partner.

    The bottom line is: If you have high visibility/important content, you need to translate meaning rather than words. A detailed style guide is vital to respecting nuance, subtlety, and the distinct style of your brand voice. 

    2. Define glossaries + translation memory

    Along with your style guide, a glossary is a core component of the language assets that you will need to keep terminology consistent and lower the risk of incorrect translations. 

    You’re likely familiar with the term glossary—it’s a list of words, and their meanings, relating to a specific subject. With Lokalise, you can set up a glossary for your projects to define and describe each word. You can also set whether a term is translatable or case sensitive. Here’s an example showing a non-translatable, case sensitive term:

    Glossary example

    So, where does translation memory fit into the review process? Translation memory (TM) is a database of sentences, or text segments, and their translations that can be reused automatically when translating similar or identical content in your translation projects. 

    By reusing content, you help accelerate the process while ensuring accuracy and keeping costs under control. 

    Pro tip: Use a glossary from day one and maintain it regularly to make sure that terminology is kept consistent.

    3. Establish a team of reviewers 

    How you set up your review team will depend on your resources. Generally, the options you have available fall into two buckets: 

    • In-house: Internal company resources like native speakers on your team or in-country resources. 
    • Outsourced: Freelance reviewers, local subject matter + language experts, or your language partner

    If you’re working with a language partner, the ideal scenario is to have them take care of translation review. However, if you aren’t satisfied with the quality of translations, you should look into working with a different vendor to set up a system of checks and balances. 

    Step 2: Review

    Once you’ve defined what you consider to be “quality,” you can use the resources established in the previous step to perform translation review. We’ll discuss what tools you can use in the next section. 

    The crucial step here is to set feedback expectations. Every time you suggest a change, there needs to be a reason for it. It’s obvious why—vague feedback results in the same mistakes being made repeatedly. 

    How to measure quality 

    Language quality is subjective. A good translation for one person may sound “weird” to another. 

    To remove subjectivity from the equation, you need clearly defined guidelines (step 1). 

    At Slack, the “quality pillar” is in charge of maintaining quality standards at scale. Their pass score for language quality is 97%, meaning all content quality evaluations must score 97% or higher for them to consider that this translated content meets Slack’s standards for quality. 

    “For new languages, this pillar is the one running linguistic quality assurance (LQA) processes, intaking bugs and feedback from internal speakers and external beta partners, as well as ensuring that all critical issues are fixed by launch.”

    Step 3: Consolidate

    In this phase, the key is to consolidate the review made in the previous step. All the errors and changes should be taken into account so that you can:

    a) Update glossaries and translation memories to ensure that you avoid mistakes in the future, move faster, and achieve the desired consistency. 

    b) Give feedback to the translators about quality. 

    Share the scoreboard with the translators/vendors. Find a consensus to agree/disagree on the bugs reported. This will help to improve collaboration overtime. 

    What tools do I use?

    Cloud-based translation management systems have made it easier than ever to ensure quality translations. We’re not bold enough to make the case that your brand can do without human review.

    That said, Lokalise makes it easier to manage translation reviews by providing the necessary functionality to automate a chunk of your review process. Automated QA checks will catch any:

    • Spelling errors
    • Grammatical issues
    • Terminology inconsistencies using the glossary (before your content moves through to review) 
    • Inconsistent placeholders 
    • Inconsistent HTML (source vs. target)
    • Different numbers (source vs. target)
    • Special placeholders (target)
    • And more

    To expand QA checks and spellchecker languages, you can install lexiQA’s chrome extension for Lokalise.

    Experiment with the process to balance gaining efficiency with quality 

    While this article includes guidelines for translation review, it’s by no means comprehensive. There will be nuances to these guidelines specific to your scenario. 

    However, we’ve covered the critical steps you need to build a linguistic quality program and ensure you’ve fixed all the issues by launch. The most important thing is to experiment with the process and highlight improvement opportunities to get more efficient at launching languages.

    Further reading

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