Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Quality the Cowboy Way
June 9, 2010 - By: - In: Translation - Comments Off on Quality the Cowboy Way

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking in Salt Lake City at the American Society for Quality. I can talk for hours on translation quality workflows, and these guys actually had the patience to listen.

Before the presentation, Lisa, who helps me with presentations, and I were trying to come up with something that would work for them. Well, they were west of the Hudson, so the cowboy theme was obvious―at least to me. Though we did run into a problem when we talked about riding drag, and when I attempted to explain, a lot of those Salt Lake City slickers assumed I was taking about how I dressed on the range rather than where I ride in a cattle drive.

But aside from missed cultural cues, Lisa and I settled on the cowboy metaphor in solidarity with all those lonely quality assurance cowpokes who’ve got to get the job done, even if a management blizzard is blowing.

It’s easy enough for me to saunter into a room and say, “Hi, my name is Translation Guy,” and start talking 12-step quality assurance programs for a great translation.

Lisa pointed out that most of the people engaged in the company side of the translation process don’t have enough control over the process. Over the years, I’ve tried my best to support those brave corporate cowboys wrangling for the resources to get the job done right. It can be a lonely battle, especially when your only ally is a vendor who’s charging you for it.

But the clients we work with―the project managers, the brand managers, the document specialist―can’t wave a magic wand and magically get the time and resources they need to do a stellar job. They’ve just got to get the job done. Might take longer, might not look so pretty, might even end up costing more in the long run, but that’s the cowboy way and the reality of translation for most of our clients. Making do.

It’s my belief that the best ways to get the biggest gains in quality are also the cheapest. Get a sign-off on terminology first. Use a style guide. Use translation memory. Make sure that everyone on the team, including validators, especially validators, knows what they are doing.

Here’s a cowboy-way kind of story, even though it was at a chicken farm in Hanover, New Hampshire (yup, there used to be chicken farms up there) instead of at the Pitchfork in Meeteetse (where I rode drag, not in drag, and wish I could ride again).

The tailgate of Uncle Lester’s jeep pickup was held together with bailing wire for as long as I could remember. “It’s going to break,” I said once. “You ought to get that fixed.”

Uncle Lester winked at me. “Just as soon as it’s broke I will. There’s plenty more bailing wire in the barn.”


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