In the vast localization sea, we are all enrolled in a tireless quest, trying to find the right definition of quality and to identify substantial boundaries that will finally allow us to grasp it. However, despite its heavy presence in blogs, tweets and forums, it constantly manages to leak away from our objective variables and measuring efforts. That elusive notion called quality evaporates like thin air, and leaves us wondering and discussing its real nature. Our four pillars for this brief discussion about quality are linguistic performance, CAT and QA tools, certified processes and client needs. Will these four forces help us find our way to our long pursued fifth element*?
Many localization experts would agree that linguistic quality is the key foundation of translation excellence. Each linguistic milestone fulfills a different endeavor with the final aim of achieving top linguistic quality. Translation, editing and proofreading assure that source contents are efficiently transferred to the target language. We all know that there are different requirements depending on the component, file format, subject matter or document type, and they all go beyond linguistic correctness. So, are there valid global and universal variables that can measure accuracy, consistency, readability, adequacy,…? Do we really explore and develop the significance of the different linguistic aspects?
Technology is a great asset that allows us to streamline processes and reduce the risk of errors. CAT tools accelerate the translation process, capitalize on earlier translated material and improve consistency. QA tools help us identify and fix human errors and thus achieve a higher quality level. Some localization experts are even taking this stand one step further and considering machine translation followed by adequate human post-editing procedures. Technology does certainly help to approach perfection, but how significant is its contribution in the global process? And, where are the limits of automated processes?
Effective production processes guaranteed by QA management systems have a direct impact on final results (product and service). Certified processes act as fences that track and lock up quality. There is no doubt that an effective process put in place at each production stage is essential for successful localization, yet there still seems to be quite a lot of room for development. Risk analysis, continuous improvement, and customer satisfaction are all notions that prove that quality is not yet totally captured by standards and certifications. How objectively can translation quality be measured and guaranteed? And, how flexible are these processes to adapt to particular specifications, if required?
Quality as a result is inherently linked to expectations. Many could argue that an objective and universal translation quality exists independently from any goals or needs. However, translation is a close relative of communication, where speaker, listener, message and context are necessarily bound to each other. Message contents, audience, purpose and timing are often determined by clients, so it does not seem reasonable to untie quality from them, like an independently floating entity. Localization experts should work together with translation buyers to evaluate a project and define expectations. Ideally, they could also anticipate their localization needs, design preventive plans to minimize errors and create goals. How does service relate to global quality? To what extent does client communication have an impact on delivered quality?
So, what does quality quintessence* actually rely on after all? Human talent and know-how? State-of-the-art technology? Ability to communicate and meet expectations? Fully controlled processes? Or, maybe we just need to learn from that ever-present open gap where both error and improvement can slip in.
* quin•tes•sence –noun
- the pure and concentrated essence of a substance.
- the most perfect embodiment of something.
- (in ancient and medieval philosophy) the fifth essence or element, ether, supposed to be the constituent matter of the heavenly bodies, the others being air, fire, earth, and water.