;   Medical Translation Insight: Is translation the least important most important thing? - ForeignExchange Translations

Is translation the least important most important thing?Originally uttered by Don Draper in Mad Men, the sentiment sums up the feelings of many labeling, packaging, regulatory, and, yes, translation professionals. "Nobody reads the manual" is a frequently voiced concern and objection to spending money.

During our annual company meeting in Denver last week, we were reminded why this blasé attitude is off the mark.

Part of our company meeting is dedicated to a client panel. This year, three representatives from medical device companies participated in our get-together. The two-hour discussion between clients and ForeignExchange staff was tremendously inspiring.

Meg, Woody, and Tom made a compelling case for the importance of translation quality. While people tend to be dismissive of medical device labeling, the product doesn't ship without it. And if it's wrong, products get recalled and patients can die. When products get recalled, it has a tremendous impact on a device company's operation, processes, and staff.

Those sentiments extend to translation. "Nobody cares about translation" may be right most of the time - but clients and users sure do care when they find a mistake. Our client panel actually argued that quality is a powerful differentiator, especially in near-comoditized products and services - and that certainly applies to translation.

So what are medical translation providers to do?

First and foremost, translation companies need to build a culture of quality. This needs to extend from top to bottom of the organization. Everybody needs to realize the importance of their actions and feel empowered to contribute to quality.

Predictability of quality is of key importance to medical device companies. Translation services that are sometimes error-free and sometimes riddled with mistakes aren't good enough. Robust systems for risk management, QA, and overall project execution are needed to guarantee clients that their translations are correct - every time.

Organizations that have built a culture of quality realize that quality issues are to be embraced, not hidden. Viewed as positive opportunities for improvement, all employees will identify and solve problems. Repeatable quality doesn't happen without wide-spread ownership of problems.

And wide-spread ownership of problems doesn't happen without management support. Translation quality cannot be delegated to one or two people. Quality must be supported, funded, and rewarded at every level of the organization.

These concepts are deceptively simple. It has taken ForeignExchange years to get to where we are today, and there is always more to do. But last week, our clients provided the motivation and reinforcement for our team to stay committed to our company vision and to make sure that translation quality remains the most important thing for us.

ForeignExchange's METRiQ translation quality methodology provides medical device and pharmaceutical companies with measurable translation quality - every time.


  1. Diane McCartney said...
    Jody Byrne writes the following in the Preface of his book 'Technical Translation, Usability Strategies for Translating technical Documentation', which was published in 2006:

    'In recent years, the range of technical texts facing translators has grown significantly. No long is it enough for a translator to merely understand the source text and be able to render it into a comprehensible target text. Nowadays, clients spend vast amounts of money on professional technical writers, document design and testing procedures while technical writers spend years studying how best to present technical information to users. Technical translators, on the other hand, do not necessarily receive the training or exposure to the texts which have become so prevalent or to the process needed to create them. There is, therefore, and urgent need to incorporate knowledge of technical communication and usability testing into the theory and practice of technical translation.'

    So if no one reads the manual anyway, why are companies investing so much in writing one in at least one language? And yes, nobody reads the manual anyway, because the translation is generally incomprehensible. Companies' objections to spend money on translation will soon result in their customers' objection to buying their products .... And considering that nobody wants to pay for translation anymore, those of us in the profession will soon find ourselves unable to buy our customers products because we will have run out of paid work .... My thoughts for the day.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    amaxson said...
    @Diane: Thanks for your comment. I have to humbly disagree, though.

    If companies want to continue to grow, and expand into other countries, whether or not someone reads the manual doesn't matter...what does matter is that it is there and available (and hopefully understandable), as those countries the client is hoping to expand to will not allow the product to be released without those manuals...in the language(s) native to that country/region.

    So, while many may claim 'no one' reads these manuals...someone does. Often, that someone is the most important person for the company trying to release the product: Regulatory officials.

    While companies may try to cut corners and cut costs on translation, the fact of the matter is: they need it. The old saying "you have to spend money to make money" comes to mind...

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