Translation Test Guidelines: How to Assess Translation Quality

Why a sample translation test might not be the best approach.

There are certain industry best practices that all Language Service Providers (LSPs) follow to give customers the highest quality translations. Unfortunately, most translation test scenarios do not allow language vendors to adhere to those best practices as they would with a real project. As a translation buyer, this is important for you to know—and taking an alternative approach is in your best interest. It will save you time, minimize risk, and ultimately result in a better process to select your translation company.


Sample translations break all the rules.

It is important for clients to be clear about why they want a sample translation test from a professional translation company in the first place.

  • Is it to test the ability of an LSP to act quickly?
  • Is it to test their ability to communicate with you?
  • Is it to see how the LSP operates? Is it to assess the quality of the final product?

None of these goals can be judged effectively via a test translation, because they omit essential steps and crucial documentation. This includes:


A glossary that establishes terminology in the target languages is a critical component of a quality translation, especially for highly-complex domains such as gaming, medical, and legal. The best practice is to obtain a current glossary (if it exists) or develop one and submit it for the customer's review and approval before beginning the actual translation. In most sample translation tests, a glossary is not provided, nor is there time to create one.

Style guide

Translation style guides govern tone, usage of terminology, punctuation, sentence structure, date/ time/number formats, etc. Even if the client only has an English style guide, that provides a place to start. The LSP can leverage this to help the client develop style guides for each additional language. To the detriment of test translation projects, a style guide is rarely, if ever, provided.


Product training is very important to translators, especially if software, hardware, or a medical device translations are required. The companies that receive the highest quality translations from their LSPs invest in training the vendor's resources. Sample translation tests rarely ever have associated training.


Over the course of a normal translation process, translators ask questions about source content to make sure they understand it correctly. Customers clarify terms, meaning, intent, etc., and translators revise or construct the translation accordingly. (All translators are given these clarifying answers.) During the sample translation test process, Q&A is rare; therefore, translators are left to guess, hoping their inclinations are right.


To provide the highest quality translations, LSPs work to find translators who are subject matter experts (SMEs) in certain areas, whether it's medical, financial, or IT. These expert resources are in high demand and are booked well in advance of projects to ensure the right resources are working with the right customers. Many translation providers have a large database of translators indexed by subject matter expertise. Sample translation tests assume the best resources are available "on-demand." These resources are typically removed from other paid projects to address a sample that requires a quick turnaround, breaking all best practice rules. Ironically, most test translations come from clients who have specialized content—meaning that content is the most difficult to translate in a test setting.


Often, clients request that test translations be competed in 2 or 3 days. This simply does not allow for all the optimal steps to take place. Typically, kickoffs and other information exchanges are skipped, as well as the aforementioned Q&A between the translators and the client. It is nearly impossible to engage the right resources when adequate lead time is not given, and when translations are due back immediately. In the context of an established program, the vendor would have client-familiar resources already in place and would be able to act quickly.


So what's the solution? How can a client assess the quality of a potential language vendor? Here's what we recommend.


The 5-point approach to assessing translation quality (without a translation test sample)


1. Ask for samples of work from similar customers.

By providing materials already translated in the customer's domain that comply with the LSP's best practices, the customer will be able to more realistically review and evaluate the quality of the LSP's work.

2. Go in-depth on process and project management.

Does the LSP have documented processes for project ramp, quality steps, and project methodology? Do they follow their own process consistently? How does the LSP’s PM control quality?

3. Be clear about your perceived success criteria.

Ensure the LSP understands what resources you feel are required to succeed on your project, and ask for information on resourcing that validates the LSP is able to secure the right resources.

4. Conduct a small, paid pilot project.

If you believe it is critical to assess an LSP's work on a live job, start with a small, real-life project. You can control the time and cost of evaluating the materials by short-listing language providers and asking only two to complete the pilot; and, you can have the LSP complete translations that you will actually use, so your money is not spent on redoing already translated material.

5. Ask how they showcase translation quality.

A good LSP will be able to show how essential maintaining the highest standard of translation quality allowed them to produce an effective, professional website translation.

Interested in learning more or starting a project? Lionbridge engages a massive community of native-speaking subject matter experts who can help translate your content in 350+ languages. Reach out today.

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