The QA process in localization: going with the flow or against the grain?

In the first two articles of our series, we looked into linguistic quality assurance and how it works in localization and then we reviewed the evolution and present status of QA technology. Now that we have a better idea of what we are dealing with, in today’s third article we will attempt to disentangle the issue of workflow. Localization and quality assurance are processes more than anything else and, when one tries to bring the two together, a number of challenges emerge.

Linguistic quality assurance is (not) a holistic approach

In theory, a quality assurance process of some kind should be in place for all main three stages of a localization project: 1) Pre-translation: by ensuring that the source content which is to be translated is written clearly and well (and, in cases of large localization projects, that it has been properly internationalised), the risk of having to deal with all sorts of issues later on in the workflow of the project is minimised. This is a topic that has also been aptly discussed in the context of machine translation ( 2) In-translation: in the process of translating the source content when various issues arise, such as terminology and other types of inconsistencies, and locale- or context-specific errors, the translator should have the tools and be enabled to react quickly and make corrections whenever required. This way, she won’t have to deal with the same problems further down the line in the same project. (A certain level of support for such issues is provided by some CAT tools, but it is rather patchy.) 3) Post-translation: a thorough review of the translated content is normally reserved for after the job is completed, at which point the reviewer needs to find all the errors, fix them and make sure that no new errors are introduced in the process. In practice, for the majority of large scale localization projects only post-translation QA takes place, mainly due to time pressure and associated costs – an issue we also explored in our first article in connection with the practice of sampling. The larger implication of this reality is that: a) effectively we should be talking about quality control, rather than quality assurance (as everything takes place after the fact), and b) quality assurance becomes a second-class citizen in the world of localization. This contradicts everything we see and hear about the importance of quality in the industry, where both buyers and providers of language services prioritise quality as a prime directive. When it is treated like this, one can only wonder: yes, quality is part of the process – but is it essential?

The challenges of integrating QA in a localization workflow

Assuming that the answer to the previous question is “yes, absolutely”, then we should consider what we can do to make QA a more integral part of the localization process. At the moment, reviewers and quality managers alike have to face a number of challenges and limitations on a daily basis. As already discussed in a previous article, the technology does not always help. CAT tools with integrated QA functionality have a lot of issues with noise, and that is unlikely to change any time soon, because this kind of functionality is not a priority for a CAT tool. On the other hand, stand-alone QA tools with more extensive functionality work independently, which means that any potential ‘collaboration’ between stand-alone QA tools and CAT tools can only be achieved in a cumbersome, intermittent workflow: complete the translation, export it from the CAT tool, import the bilingual file in the QA tool, run the QA checks, analyse the QA report, go back to the CAT tool, find the segments which have errors, make corrections, update the bilingual file and so on. All this has to be done manually with a lot of configuration in order to account for locale conventions and user preferences. If the CAT tool happens to be an online platform, the inherent problems of this workflow become even more exacerbated when the CAT tool needs to somehow be used alongside a desktop offline QA tool. It is no surprise, then, that translators and reviewers often refuse to adopt this kind of workflow, given how much time needs to be spent analysing error reports and making corrections in different environments. (Never mind the potential costs for additional software and the time needed for training in different tools.) Some desktop QA tools have in the last few years developed connectors/plug-ins for various popular CAT tools, however this connectivity doesn’t really address the issue of workflow: as a reviewer, you still have to switch between platforms all the time in order to confirm and fix errors, and you are still doing all this after the translation is complete.

How to improve the quality of QA

The continuously growing demand in the localization industry for the management of increasing volumes of multilingual content in pressing timelines and the compliance with quality guidelines means that the challenges described above will have to be addressed soon. As the trends of online technologies in translation and localization become stronger, there is an implicit understanding that existing quality assurance workflows will have to be uncomplicated in order to accommodate future needs in the industry. This can indeed be achieved with the adoption of bolder QA strategies and more extensive automation. Stay tuned for our next article when we will try to look into the future of linguistic QA and examine how the process can evolve in order to stay current and become more flexible and more effective.

Vassilis Korkas
COO at lexiQA