Why Translation Quality Dips in Summer Months

You’re in North America or Europe, working for a digital company in an international growth or localization role. You’re preparing to enjoy your summer holidays soon, when complaints start coming across your desk. Suddenly, international users are complaining. A key feature update in your software product UI was mistranslated and has to be fixed. Some standard terms you’ve translated over and over the same way forever on your website are coming back with odd translations that aren’t in your style guide or translation memory or glossaries. What’s going on? Is there a connection between rising temperatures and translation quality?

Actually, there is. If you depend on human translation, which most digital companies do, you’re likely to see quality dip over the summer, especially for European languages. Why? Because even if you work with a translation agency, they usually have specific translators assigned to your account. At some point, your primary translators will probably go on vacation over the summer. As a result, even many of the world’s most successful tech companies see this quality dip phenomenon play out every summer. It’s less noticeable for those that have robust translation memory their vendors can leverage, but still. Most tech companies notice it. Yep, professional human translators — or the lack of them — can have a truly noticeable impact!

What’s the solution? There are a few things you can do:

  1. Talk to your vendors before the dreaded summer quality dip hits you. Ask them what their plan is for managing around the situation. Often, they haven’t really planned for it themselves, and you might need to ask them to take a closer look at your account and the linguists assigned to it.
  2. Ask them to be transparent with you about when your best translators are going on vacation. You’re better prepared to address it if you know what to expect, and you might be able to schedule projects more creatively to avoid hitting while they are out.
  3. Try not to create sub-optimal conditions for your vendors over the summer. Avoid dumping huge volumes on them that they are not accustomed to, or introducing totally new content types if you can avoid it.
  4. Ask your vendors to use “clean” translation memory. Perhaps you can segment your TM resources in such a way that their use of older, lower quality translation memories can be limited. Ideally, you should do this routinely for overall good TM hygiene, but if you can, plan for this in advance.
  5. Rally additional in-language review resources, if available, to help you apply a closer layer of scrutiny to translations during this time period. If you have internal linguists on your team, see if you can clear their plates a bit more to help focus on what is likely to be lower quality. If not, see if other people who speak the language at your company can help.

In other words, it’s not your imagination. Translation quality usually does take a hit over the summer (Caveat: summer in the Northern hemisphere, if you’re a US-based company translating largely into European languages). But don’t cancel your own vacation or let your international expansion slow down due to the spike in linguistic complaints. Simply plan around this known phenomenon, so that you can continue supporting your company’s non-English customers and users with a top-notch in-language experience.

That way, both you and the hard-working translators assigned to your account can take a break with peace of mind, and a well-deserved mojito or two.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly is vice president of international operations and strategy at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles leading marketing, research, product development, and localization. She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and business. Nataly grew up in rural Illinois, lives in Boston, and has visited 57 countries (so far).

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