Insight: Having translators speak in one single voice

Good consistency is one of the most important indicators of good translation quality, especially for a big project which involves multiple products, multiple documents, and multiple translation workers (even multiple vendors). Without proper consistency management, the translation work would become a disaster even all translators involved are qualified and subject experts.

How does inconsistency show up? Firstly, translation is not just conversion between words in different languages. Each term might have several equivalents in the target language. For example, “Internet” in English might be translated into “因特网”, “英特网”, “Internet”, “互联网” and other words in Chinese. Secondly, even for a single expression, different translators might have different translations due to their different styles. For example, “See Install Guide for details.” could have the following translations, which are all correct if we don’t consider the context:

  • 请参阅《安装指南》了解详细信息。
  • 有关详细信息,请参阅《安装指南》。
  • 详情见《安装指南》。

But if we see all of them in a single document, we’ll feel confused.

So how to keep the translations consistent, in other words, how to have all translators speak in one single voice?

First of all, we need a guide file. This guide file is generally called style guide, used to define the translation style, the formats, the punctuation, the measure units and other things used in the target language translation. And this file should be shared among all translation workers before the very beginning, so that all translation work can follow the same style.

Secondly, a glossary (or term list) is required. The glossary should be developed before and throughout the translation process. Translators can add a term into the glossary any time according to a specified procedure, so that all others can follow the term definition in later translation. By doing so, consistency at term level can be assured.

Thirdly, CAT tools with memory features shall be used by translators. Those tools can remember all the translated segments and provide proposals when a segment with more than 75% matched is met. Translators can also search concordance from the memory during translation to keep a same style and wording. Recently, some online CAT tools have been introduced. They can be used by multiple users parallelly so that the translators can achieve even more consistency.

Fourthly, we should use QA tools to check inconsistency. Some QA tools like Xbench do very well in this area. Of course, the most important thing is people-relevant. Trainings should be given to all translators on style guide, tools, glossary maintainence and QA process. Translators should learn the fact that most of times they are not speaking in their own ways during translation, but speaking in some way the client likes.