From a buyer’s point of view, a very common problem with quality is that it might not be visible or evaluable before the actual purchasing transaction is made. In some cases the quality cannot even be seen afterwards. Unfortunately, it is the lack of quality which becomes visible when least expected, and with high costs.  Translation quality makes no difference. Translation quality is extremely challenging to evaluate. To be able to say whether the translation is good or not, one needs a lot of knowledge on the used languages and the source material. Because it is so hard to see the quality, buyers (and service providers) often search for help from secondary quality indicators.

Even highly skilled professional translators and interpreters have to rely on secondary quality indicators when communicating with potential customers. People who are looking for help with translation are rarely experts in the field. References, recommendations, diplomas, reputation are examples of quality indicators which refer to the actual translation quality only indirectly. Every translation task is individual and the success in previous assignments doesn’t guarantee or determine the quality of the next job. This applies not only to translators; it is a real challenge in most service businesses.

Although the link between secondary indicators and upcoming quality may be weak, well-selected indicators can enable building trust between the participants, and trust is indeed a key element between translation service buyer and provider. It is said that every translator will provide a different translation for the same piece of text, and that there isn’t any single correct or right way to do it. When the absolute correctness is such a complex concept, secondary quality indicators can be very handy, like many translators already know. However, it would be on everyone’s interest if those indirect quality indicators had only the attention they deserve. Misleading use of those trust building elements is not profitable in the long run. Long term business relationships are always built on real translation quality.

Secondary quality indicators are an advantage for professional translators as compared to machine translation. When talking about machine translation quality there is rarely any secondary elements involved. Hence, the debate between human and machine translation quality is not always completely even.


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