We are often asked by clients and prospects to provide a sample translation as a means of comparing quality. While this seems like a logical step, we’ve often found these organizations become the proverbial “dog that caught the car” – they have what they asked for, but are unsure what to do next.

The truth is that language is subjective. In this article, we’ll share how you can establish clear criteria to determine which translation service is best for you.

Outlined below are some widely accepted best practices, questions, and guidelines to consider when handling a sample translation project:


Most language-service providers cap the word count for free sample translations. Unfortunately this limited sample may not be representative of the full project, reducing contextual understanding for the translators.

Instead, we often recommend a phased approach, in which a subset of source content is isolated to translate and review prior to executing the full project. This allows you to get a representative sample without wasting resources and time on a piece of content that won’t be used later.

Linguistic assets

Linguistic assets are resources used by professional translators to ensure quality, tone, style and consistency. They include a terminology database, glossary, style guide, brand guide, translation memory, and previously translated content for reference.

These assets should be shared with any language-services provider that will be delivering a sample translation. This will ensure all translators are working from the same baseline and eliminate guesswork.

Yes, this process is more akin to a full onboarding, but it will ensure the best samples from all parties. This better serves the end goal. The exercise of organizing, refining and communicating these linguistic assets will need to be done anyway.

Key metrics

Language, by nature, is subjective. People tend to think of translation as a mere exchanging of words, much as you would exchange currency. But translation is not math - it is actually an art. More often than not, perception of quality often comes down to subtle preferences. These preferences include formal vs. informal tone, as well as a spectrum of literal-to-liberal interpretations of meaning.

We suggest knowing ahead of time how success and failure will be measured. Clearly communicate this to translation candidates and reviewers.

Is there a formal score card? If so, share it with translation candidates in advance. Transparency ultimately serves all parties: the translation buyer, the provider, and especially end-users or customers.

In-Country Reviewers

As you prepare to review sample translations, make sure the designated reviewers are native speakers of the target language and dialect.

Also, be sure reviewers understand the assignment and criteria for a successful translation. They should understand how to use the review portal or translation management system, and have set aside appropriate time for the task.


Translation is a collaborative process. Even the best translators need feedback on preferences, preferred style, and tone. Teamwork makes the dream work, whether it is an outsourced linguistic team performing separate rounds of translation, copy editing and proofreading; or in-country reviewers providing feedback on translation deliverables.

An attitude of partnership will ultimately serve the end goal of creating understanding and effectively communicating your organization’s brand across languages and cultures.

LanguageLine Can Help

LanguageLine Translation Services imagines a world without language or cultural barriers. LanguageLine created the language access industry in 1982 and handled more than 40 million interactions last year.

As the industry leader in language services, we manage thousands of translation projects each year in more than 240 languages. Our content quality is 100 percent assured. We are most proud of the fact that our client-satisfaction rate is a standard-setting 98.5 percent.

It all starts with a conversation. Please contact us via our website, by calling 800-878-8523, or by emailing translation@languageline.com . We would like to learn more about the language or cultural challenge you may be facing.