Man translating many languages
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Papa John's employee training department doesn't publish anything in Spanish without director of international training Hank Enright approving the translation first. Raised in Mexico to American parents, Enright considers himself fluent, calling this work "critical" as he says, "I take great pride and ownership in reviewing, correcting, and editing Spanish language material."

While it's common for major corporations to have bilingual employees review translations before publishing, few approach their job with Enright's zeal. "Just for fun, I have been known to challenge the local franchise or marketing support team to reward me in a symbolic way for each translation error or typo that I find," he continues, explaining a reward system he set up encouraging bilingual employees to sleuth out as many translation errors as they can.

Enright is rooted in his belief that this diligent oversight creates better translations, improving Papa John's communication overall. But industry professionals say too much internal review can actually make translations worse. Kevin McQuire is president and CEO of Atlas Language Services, a Chicago-based translation company, and he says, "If a reviewer believes that it is their job to change the content or mark up any terminology that they don't prefer, then [review] can quickly spiral out of control." The end result, he adds, isn't a better product, rather "a lot of confusion and frustration."

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Poor Translation Vendors

And Enright is definitely frustrated, venting about poor quality translation Papa John's has purchased in the past: A delivery training course where "never leave the car running" was mistranslated as "do not exit the vehicle running," an employee video where "it ain't harder than that" became "anything harder than that."

Perhaps the latter was subtle criticism from the translator as translating a word like "ain't" in corporate material is no easy task. But errors like these do have Enright leary of professional translators moving forward. And to his credit, when you speak the language, it's tempting to review the material yourself. Why shouldn't you?

Because you're not a translator. That's the first reason Arle Lommel, senior analyst for translation research firm Common Sense Advisory gives: "Very often the reviewers are not as qualified as the translators who did the job in the first place." Enright, for example, has no translation experience or training. "The result," Lommel continues, "is like going to an architect to get some plans and then asking your brother-in-law who once helped his friend Joe remodel his man-cave in exchange for a 24-pack of Budweiser to 'fix' things up with the drawings."

But in Enright's case, the Papa John's exec has fixed actual errors. Lommel says these instances are rare and usually occur when clients buy translation from a bad vendor: "If you are finding real problems regularly in [review], that points to bigger issues elsewhere in your processes." In other words, instead of 'fixing' each and every translation, Enright needs to better vet who he buys from.

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Spot Checks Yield Best Results

That said, Lommel does recommend internal review when you're working with a new translator, "when you have yet to establish a relationship of trust." Then occasionally spot-check after that. "You do it early on," he explains, "but you don't keep testing it over and over again as though it were an unknown."

When you do review translation internally, he counsels, "Don't just rely on bilingual staff, but instead focus on individuals who bring knowledge and skills to the table that add value. For example, if you need review of technical description, get an engineer to review it." Reviewers should also be in the country where the translation will be used, which is why professionals call this step 'in-country review' (ICR). Non-native speakers working from the United States are "just as likely to introduce errors as [they] are to find them," Lommel says, "unless the translator is very bad."

"ICR can be both good and bad," explains McQuire. "ICR - if done right - can be very valuable and result in high client satisfaction and a higher quality translation. However without proper instructions and guidelines, ICR can be contentious and problematic."