Selecting a translation vendor at Tekom tcworld 2012

I’m at Tekom tcworld 2012, in Wiesbaden. This morning I’m attending a session called “Considerations in Translation Vendor Selection”, by Bernard Aschwanden. This is a topic close to my heart, as I’m keen to start planning for the translation of our own documentation.

Here is the blurb that Bernard published for his session:

When a company identifies a need for documentation to be translated into new languages for both existing customers and new customers it is important to ensure you choose the right translation vendor. In doing so, it is necessary to identify options (with associated costs and risks) for meeting current demands, processes for handling future translation requests, and a big-picture strategy for documentation translation needs across product lines and worldwide needs. Learn about key considerations in vendor selection, and identify the factors that matter most to a successful partnership.

Bernard joined us via a remote connection. He became sick just before the conference began, so he recorded his presentation, and joined us via Skype to answer questions. What’s more it was 4 a.m. for him, so kudos that he was able to string a coherent sentence together!

Role of a translation vendor

The role of the vendor is to be a partner, working with you to identify your needs and manage people and processes. They should help with localisation as well as translation. Localisation means making the images and concepts and ideas understandable to a local audience.

The vendor should always provide you with the translation memory. If they don’t provide it, don’t use the vendor.

Should you translate yourself or outsource?

Some things to consider:

  • Are you comfortable with sending your content outside?
  • Are you happy with the changes in processes that will be required.
  • Associated costs, both short and long term.


Make sure you identify everyone who is involved: Reviewers, authors, translators, managers, outside vendors, your clients… the list is long.

Ways to get started

  • Talk to people at conferences and make other uses of word of mouth.
  • Join interest groups.
  • Read industry articles.
  • Do web searches.

Then narrow down your options, by Googling the vendors, checking their websites, sending them an email.

Make sure you have a good list of questions to ask potential vendors, based on what’s important to you.

Start building relationships with a short list of vendors. Schedule a demo, set up in-person meetings. Ask them to walk you through the process. Then discuss the results with your team.

Important questions

These are some initial questions to ask the vendor:

  • Does the company outsource its work, and to whom?
  • What languages do they manage, and which are their specialities?
  • What industry do they specialise in?
  • Do they have a recent client list and references.
  • What is the rate of turnover for the translators?
  • What is their industry ranking?

Bernard then took us through a number of more specific questions. If you’re intending to take this further, it’s worth getting the list of useful questions to investigate. The questions revolved around fees, technology and tools, managing of the translators, workflow, and more.

It’s important to note how responsive the vendor is to your questions, and what your overall impression is of the organisation.

Getting a sample translated

Send the vendor a sample and ask them to do a translation. Make sure the sample is realistic.

Do a workflow model. Assess the result, and show it to the stakeholders who will use it.

Have a systematic way of scoring and comparing the results of the chosen vendors.


It’s important to identify the total costs. Make sure you specify which parts of the job you will do in-house and which parts you will outsource.

Find out about these costs:

  • Per word.
  • Total engineering effort to set up the system.
  • Editing and proofing.
  • Project management.
  • Layout, graphics, tables.
  • Review of the material.

You can save on costs by:

  • Content re-use.
  • Translation memory. Words that are matched one-to-one will need reviewing, but not full service. Make sure you own the translation memory.
  • Using just one firm. You may get a discount for doing all languages with one vendor.
  • Doing some of the tasks in house. For example, in-house review by a subject matter expert, or layout.

Common mistakes

Bernard closed with some points to note:

  • Know what you need. Go in prepared. Be up front about what you need, so that the vendor knows everything they need to know.
  • Build trust, on both sides.
  • Get the credentials of the vendor. Check their online presences, also on Facebook and Twitter. This will give an idea of how professional they are and what image they are putting out for people to see.
  • Find out all of the costs.
  • Don’t let the vendor use you as a test case.
  • Make sure the vendor has experience in the industry you work in.
  • Understand their quality processes, and make sure you know how they handle verification.

At the end, there was plenty of animated discussion from the floor. Audience members included translators, translation vendors, and people interested in hiring a vendor. This is a topic dear to many people’s hearts!

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 25 October 2012, in Tekom tcworld and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. First of all may I add a big thank you for all your Tekom posts. They have made for interesting reading.

    I was interested by your comment about an “animated discussion” following this session. Could you elaborate? It would be interesting to me and hopefully others to know if it included anything over and above the speaker’s content.

    • Hallo Colum

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I didn’t make any notes on the discussion that took place after the presentation, so I can’t give details. I’m sure Bernard will remember more, as it’s his area of expertise.

      One question was about the format used by a translation memory system. Assuming you manage to ensure that you own the translation memory, how confident can you be that another translation company will be able to use it? Bernard said that there are a couple of well-known translation tools. If your vendor is using one of those, then you can have a good level of confidence that the memory will be transferrable. A member of the audience mentioned a specific XML format that most tools can export into and import from.

      Another question was around the complexity and time-consuming nature of identifying a good translation vendor. The questioner asked if Bernard had a checklist of items and expected standards that we could measure the vendors against. Bernard said he didn’t have such a list. I seem to remember that other people had leads here too, but I don’t have the details.

      Those are the main points I remember. If anyone else reading this post remembers anything more, that would be great! 🙂

      Cheers, Sarah

  1. Pingback: Tekom tcworld 2012 wrapup « ffeathers

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