True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.
– Daniel Kahneman
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Whether you crave it or dread it, feedback is an essential part of the translation process (at least it should be). Depending on who you work for—agencies or direct clients—feedback can take a variety of forms. But even within those two categories the level of detail will vary.
And let’s not forget the fact that different types of materials require different approaches to assessing the quality. Rubric style tables and spreadsheets with predefined categories are perfectly suited for working with legal and medical documents where accuracy is paramount, but when it comes to assessing the quality of marketing translation, they can be misleading. Most marketing texts require a degree of linguistic and cultural adaptation, which could be viewed as mistakes within the rigid constraints of such forms. For instance, when translating English-speaking seasonal promotions into Russian, one has to modify all references to Christmas (firstly, in Russia it is not celebrated in December and, secondly, it does not have the same commercial impact on the Russian audience).
Agencies that adapt rigorous quality assessment are more likely to give detailed feedback compiled by an experienced professional editor. This might take a shape of an evaluation sheet, which clearly highlights all mistakes and their category (e.g. style, register, syntax, critical mistranslation etc.) or a Word file with comments, explaining all corrections. This type of feedback is greatly beneficial for both agencies and translators. It enables the former to assess the translation quality and hence decide whether to assign a particular translator future projects. The latter receives an important overview of areas that could be improved. And of course, there is the added benefit of providing clear, structured, documented comments on the quality of work submitted in case of any disputes.
This is, however, a time-consuming task, and under the constraints of tight deadlines, competing prices and a typically high turnover of PMs, some agencies choose to resort to a simpler system of rubric tables or even asking a reviewer to assign the quality of translation a numerical value between 1 and 10. Some agencies choose to dispense with reviewing translations and providing feedback altogether.
Similarly, feedback from direct clients tends to vary in quality. On one end of the spectrum, I have had clients who have a bilingual editor in house checking all the translations and giving feedback on inaccuracies, suggesting alternatives or trying to clarify localization issues. On the other end of the spectrum are those clients who accept and use translations as they come and have no processes in place to check their quality.
In between those two extremes are clients who choose to hire an editor in addition to a translator, and those who use online translation tools and back translation to spot check the final product (and who then panic when Google Translate produces a masterpiece like “deny the witches of motherhood and tours” as a back translation for a perfectly sound sentence in Russian—true story, by the way).
In general, direct clients appreciate receiving translations that do not require additional editing, especially if they do not have any in-house expertise in the language pair in question or are unaware of this step in the QA process. It is therefore beneficial for freelance translators to work with a trusted reviewer: not only does it add value to the service you deliver, but also provides you with valuable feedback that allows you to continue to hone your craft.
The areas that direct clients address in their feedback provide an interesting insight into what they value most. I found that direct clients are more likely to comment first on elements of their overall translation experience, such as work ethics, handling projects and offering helpful localization advice or tips on best practices, and then they turn to linguistic intricacies.
Despite such a wide spectrum of approaches to providing feedback amongst agencies and direct clients, I could not help but detect certain trends. Most agencies share a relative impartiality towards content and a focus on accuracy. Direct clients, on the other hand, tend to focus more on translation impact: nuances of meaning, tone of voice, copy sounding more interesting and engaging.
Receiving feedback on your work is critical. In her blog post How to ask for client feedback, Carolyn Yohn highlights the importance of asking for feedback and names some of the reasons to do that: it could help you create a better relationship with a PM or benchmark the quality of your work.
Feedback in translation has been covered before, although not as extensively as most other industry topics. Here are some helpful links for further reading:
Coming soon in Part 2: the challenges of responding constructively to feedback and solutions to try.
Anna Livermore is an English>Russian and German>Russian translator and former marketing specialist. With a linguistics degree from the Oxford Brookes University and a Professional Diploma in marketing, she came to specialize in translating marketing materials, corporate communications, website content and various components of SEM. She is a member of the Slavic Languages Division’s Social Media team. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org