Quality control in translation work has become a priority in recent years and led to the establishment of international standards.
When some people see the phrase ‘freelance translation professional’ they imagine someone who is in complete control over their careers. This inspires either fear or jealousy; some people don’t like the idea of being 100% responsible for all aspects of your living, while others see it as the ultimate freedom. Both are wrong to different extents; freelancing in any industry is both exciting and anxiety-inducing.
One aspect of freelancing most people miss is very basic: Quality control. In a company, there are usually levels of employees who help to review each other’s work, as well as set policies. But as a freelancer the only policies you have are the ones passed to you by clients, and not every client has the same policies or even bothers to share them with you. So how do you know you’ve done a quality translation? More importantly, how does your client know?
Why Quality Control is Necessary
There’s a famous saying by novelist Arthur C. Clarke stating that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It’s true, isn’t? You pick up your smartphone and speak a question at it, and a voice responds with an answer – a few centuries ago that would have gotten you burned alive as a witch!
As a translation professional, you’re basically a sorcerer to most people: You take a sheet of paper that they can’t read and return to them a perfectly understandable version in their language. But since they don’t speak the other language, how can they ever know whether you did a good job or if you guessed you’re way through it? Sometimes they don’t find out until they roll out the ad campaign or post the press release in the target country and are vilified for a terrible translation.
Two Approaches to Quality
On the one hand, as a professional you have a reputation, and the translation industry like any other self-regulates. In other words, if you do enough poor-quality translation work, you eventually stop being hired, because word gets around that you are a terrible translator. This actually does work, but it’s slow: A bad translator – especially one who sets their rates low – can do an awful lot of damage before their reputation is totally ruined, and even then some cash-strapped organisations might still hire them out of total desperation.
That’s why about a decade ago a movement started to create some actual international standards for translation work. The world is getting smaller and translation is getting much more crucial to everyday life and business. The European Union created a permanent market for translation when it established its Official Languages, and that’s when the quality control standards really gained steam.
The main contribution of these standards was a simple concept: Requiring clients to have translations reviewed by a third-party translation expert. This simple requirement has transformed quality control in the business, and most reliable translators welcomed it – I know I did.
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