Translation Guy’s Secret Sauce Part 2: Chopsticks of Translation

by Translation Guy on October 28, 2011

In Part 2 of Translation Guy’s Secret Sauce, we look to chopsticks for inspiration on translation best practice.

My Japanese fencing teacher once said to me about holding a Kendo bamboo sword, “There are many ways to hold a pair of chopsticks, but there is only one best way.” It is a lesson I have learned painfully well, although it came 30 years to late, since that’s how long it took to blow out my tendon in my index finger due to damage I did to my knuckle from holding my bamboo sword incorrectly for too long.

That’s how translation goes bad too. You never see it coming. A bad practice can go along undetected for a long time, then, when you aren’t looking you blow out a knuckle. Ouch.

Best practice is hard because it doesn’t take care of itself, and the benefits are unnoticeable, until they are. Here is the process we’ve perfected, and is the reason why our clients are the happiest in the business.

At the heart of best practice in managing translation is workflow. This begins with a set of translation assets. Before any translation project starts, each translator has a glossary, translation memory, style guide, reference materials and in hand.

The translator runs the source content against the translation memory, which is a database of every sentence ever translated in the past. These translation memory tools then identify any reusable phrases, and suggests those phrases to the translators as they translate the document using the glossary, style guide and other reference material. Other members of the translation team then provide edit and proof. At 1-800-Translate, we call this process, Prep-TEP for Preparation, Translation, Edit and Proof.

With the translation completed by the language service provider, review and validation of the translation is used to make sure it is as well suited for the intended audience. Additional review by compliance authorities, in-country specialists, or even by end-users themselves, can be used to bring the translation to high polish.

Before or after the final round of linguistic/content review, production teams will incorporate the translation into the appropriate media, recording or subtitling for video, layout for print, and localization for the Web or other software platform. After these final reviews are completed, the approved content is ready to publish.

Most importantly of all, the approved translation is used to update translation assets, incorporated into an updated translation memory and glossary, with any changes to rules noted in the style guide. That way all the work put into making the particular project as good as can be, is easily reused in future projects to reduce future problem.

This workflow has a number of benefits. It keeps the translation software and glossary up to date and consistent. An organization’s staff can re-use existing translations. And quality improves while costs go down.

We try to get all our clients into a workflow like this, no matter how small the project. Pure selfishness on our part, since best practice is the best thing for a good night’s sleep.

In our next “Secret Sauce” post, we’ll look at how to make this happen on an enterprise level: Translation Guy’s Secret Sauce: The Path to Enterprise Translation. Link back to the first post in this three-part series here.


  1. The database for translations must get pretty big after a while. That must make things so much easier in the long run since the computure can narrow down the translation. Amazing what and how things can be done.

  2. Joshua Green says:

    I’m not in the translating business, but this is interesting how the whole process works. I’m curious as to how often you need to “highly polish” your translations after the intial language service provider is done.

    • Ken says:

      The requirement and solution is different for each of our clients, and depends on a demands of markets and regulators. All of our clients have some part of these processes in place, but most prefer to leave the driving to us. Since it is often an audit tool, a check of a process, or a client-specific corrective action will sometimes allow client’s to stand down after resolving an issue, for purposes of cost control. Thanks for your interest.

  3. Sukey says:

    Looks like you have a good process there to ensure that you do the job well. Nice.

  4. Ice Stomach says:

    I think that by using phrases that have already been translated to help translate new ones must really keep it bery efficient and time saving. Sounds like after a while a system like this just translates things nearly perfect each time.

    • Ken says:

      That’s the ideal. Its a little grittier once you take the system off the PowerPoint and plug it into reality.

  5. Julia says:

    Practice makes permanent – not perfect.

  6. Karen Bush says:

    Translation has come a long way. Do you ever think that it will become completely automated? If your system gets better with each translation, eventually it would seem that the computer would create a perfect translation eventually, everytime. In a way that is pretty exciting to think of, but on the other had a bit sad. Thanks for the read.

    • Ken says:

      By word-count, most translation today is fully automated. Here at 1-800-Translate, even one small MT job is often more than everything our humans translate in a year. Only problem is the rack rate is about 1/5000 of human translation, so its hard to make money at it.

  7. bigscreenbob says:

    Ah, remember the days when the little old lady or gentleman sat in a small office and translated documents by just knowing the other language? They may have immigrated years ago and this was the job they got – so until they retire they read and translate one paper at a time by remembering the language they knew from birth. How it all as changed.

  8. It looks like your translation process is seamless, very efficient, and since it probably saves time, it probably either saves the customer money or it makes the translating company better profits.

  9. Jeremy Brown says:

    That is so cool how each tranlation helps improve the system for the next one.

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