How to Survive When Your Translator Goes on Vacation

Buyers often think of translators as interchangeable. Here are some reasons why the opposite is true.


I’ll never forget it. I was at one of the largest high-tech companies in the world, talking to their head of localization, who had designed a sophisticated way to measure translation quality. He showed me their graph of quality scores over time, and asked me if I had any idea why their quality scores went down during the months of July and August.

My answer: “The translators that normally work on your projects took vacation.”

It’s a common phenomenon, and I’ve witnessed it time and time again in the translation industry. Many buyers notice more complaints about translation quality when their regular translators go on vacation. A translator’s individual stamp on a translation can definitely make or break quality, but buyers often think of translators as interchangeable. Here are some reasons why the opposite is true.

Translators Create the Voice of Your Brand

Just like every writer has a “voice,” so does every translator. Marketers carefully choose the voice of their brand and the words they use in their source language, and so does a good translator. A professional translator becomes a specialist in your brand, an extension of your team.

Translators Accumulate Corporate Knowledge Over Time

If a translator receives repeated work from you, either directly or through an agency, the translator will generally become more familiar with your company and your products and services. The more knowledge is built up over time, the better the translations become.

Translators Develop Resources That Improve Quality

While they are translating, translators typically build up a database of past translations that they can refer to in the future to ensure consistency and quality. Likewise, they may also develop a glossary and style guide specific to the language they are translating into, just like your source language writing team would do.

So, what can you do to ensure quality when your translator takes a holiday?

Document Your Brand Voice Guidelines

Make sure that your source language brand voice guidelines, along with any glossaries or style guides in your source language, are documented and provided to your translation teams. Even though every language is different, the translators will be able to apply some of the same characteristics and tone. Or at least, having these source materials will enable them to ask questions, should they require any adaptations due to cultural differences.

Provide Translators with Context

If a translator doesn’t have any context, the words they are translating are not grounded in any substance. Instead of just sending a text along, provide as many reference materials as possible. For example, if there is a text for a label that describes a product, make sure to send the translator diagrams, manuals, or even videos so that the translator can get a visual perspective. Also, instead of sending the text for translation only, provide the translator with translation tools that show the translator a full contextual view of the document, website, or mobile app being translated. This ensures that the translation is rooted in reality.

Make Your Corporate Knowledge Easy to Access

If all of the documentation of your corporate knowledge for translation purposes only resides on the computer of the translator, it isn’t accessible to other translators, reviewers, or editors who may work on the same project – or who might work on a future project with similar content. By using translation tools that automatically prompt the translator to add glossary terms and style guide elements, the information is stored centrally, so that you can access it whenever you like, and so that other translators can too – especially if your best translators happen to be on vacation.

At the end of the day, if your translators are storing your translations in a system that isn’t centralized, your company cannot benefit from full access to your own corporate knowledge, and sharing your translation-related corporate knowledge becomes difficult, slow, and manual. You will also be at greater risk for dips in quality whenever your favorite translators happen to be unavailable.