Measuring translation quality

Quality in translation is something that good translators have an instinctive feel for. But how do you measure translation quality? How do you define it? The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation evaluates the translations provided by its contractors using the criteria set out below. First, some simple Yes/No quality criteria:

  • Compliance with technical requirements? (Y/N)
  • Right language? (Y/N)[!]
  • Assignment complete? (Y/N)
  • Specific instructions complied with?(Y/N)

Then, the following error types, marked by “Low” to “High” relevance (a “high relevance” error being “one which seriously compromises the translation’s usability”):

  • Mistranslation
  • Omission
  • Wrong or inconsistent EU usage or terminology
  • Reference documents/material not used
  • Clarity and/or register
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling

These are pretty self-evident; for those of you not familiar with the term in a language context, “register” is the variety of a language considered to be appropriate to a specific purpose, situation or social setting. So for EU documents the register will most likely be formal, institutional or technical.

What makes a quality translation?

What do you think of these translation quality criteria? Are there any gaps (bearing in mind that we’re dealing here with European Union material, so creativity and imaginative flair aren’t likely to be key requirements)? And what about translation quality more generally – for example for marketing or literary texts? If you’re a translator, do you have any personal quality criteria that you work to? And if you’re a translation client, or potential client, what do you look for in a translation?

How do you judge translation quality?

By Marian Dougan

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