What to Expect from a Translation Agency

by Uta Musgray

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At the February, 1997 meeting of the International SIG, the speaker was Sheila Morgan, General Manager, U.S. Operations, International Translation & Publishing. After registration and refreshments, the meeting began at 6:30 p.m. with an introduction by Ami Wright. She welcomed members and newcomers who were interested in joining the STC. Everyone was invited to fill in a survey and sign-up form for future SIG planning.

Then Ami introduced Sheila Morgan from ITP with its headquarters in Ireland. Sheila introduced the technical engineer, Lee Danean, from her local office.

Since companies that distribute products internationally are realizing more and more the need for professional help to accomplish their global business, they are turning to ITP and other agencies specializing in "localization" to meet these important objectives. This is challenging work that requires a lot of worldwide expertise.

Ms. Danean explained some localization buzzwords. She explained how each one relates to the evaluation and finalization of a project.

These "buzzwords" included:

Leverage, CAT, translation memory, and aligning are quite interrelated and build on each other in the process, she explained. Other issues are equally important in the accomplishment of the localization task, she said, regardless of how many languages are involved, with each language (Western, Asian, etc.) receiving its own specialized evaluation. Yet another issue, Ms. Danean said, is whether a company has decided to base its documentation on Microsoft style and terminology.

Then, Sheila Morgan presented the SIG with a proposal that she had prepared as a sample quote for a new project and compared it to a sample quote for an update with realistic pricing but fictitious time frames (each attendee received a folder containing these proposals).

The first question to be answered is usually "What is wanted, what is needed?," Ms. Morgan said.

At the beginning of each project the glossary is prepared, and there is engineering work to be done based on the state of the software delivered by the customer, i.e., its usability. Once that is done, the results are instructions for the translation. One of most significant engineering tasks, she noted, is the testing of the final translated product.

One of the many hurdles for a translation project is often the quantity (and sometimes also quality) of text, such as Help text, which can be voluminous given a technical writer's "creativity." Therefore, costs are also checked with regard to the use of CAT tools, the need for printed documentation vs. on-line documentation, etc.

An important initial step for the start of the project is the sign-off on the glossary by the customer because any later changes after a first review -- and possibly a second review -- are only free of charge if something is incorrect due to an oversight on the part of the agency / translator. Because the projects are often extensive, project management as a single interface for the customer is an integral part of the process, requiring that the customer also establishes such a contact.

Finally, Ms. Morgan explained, the update project proposal is based on known work vs. not known work. A lively question and answer session followed.

For more information on the International SIG of the Boston Chapter STC, contact SIG manager,

Uta Musgray works as an independent translator of technical material. She translates primarily between German and English.

Originally published May/June 1997 in the Boston Broadside
© 1997 by STC Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA