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How to find the right language service provider in 2021: six factors that help you decide

Where’s the best place to get my translations from and why? And how can I know if a provider is right for me? Read this guide to find out.

Finding a language service provider is a bit like looking for love. For one thing, there are so many potential partners to choose from – more than 18,000 language service and tech providers worldwide, to be exact. That’s according to a study by CSA Research, which looked at everything from international content providers to domestic minnows. Then there are the qualities a dream language service provider (LSP) should have, not least reliability, stability and trustworthiness. So how are you supposed to find the right one?

The rule of thumb: know what you want from the service. “We just need someone to deliver content” doesn’t cut it – your company has bona fide goals, whether that’s carving out a position in a new market or making a splash on the international scene. That calls for an expert partner who help you every step of the way, preferably for the long term. The following factors can help you find that partner.

1. Quality standards

How does the provider guarantee quality translations?

Quality is a metric that can be measured in many different ways, meaning that there is no catch-all answer. That said, a few clear criteria and minimum standards do apply:

  • Certification: ISO 17100 for translation quality, ISO 18587 for post-editing of machine translations and ISO 9001 for a verified quality management system are all indicators that an LSP is following established processes and good quality assurance practices.
  • Native speakers: A translation’s quality depends on the person(s) who creates it. Professional companies will only ever use expert native speakers to craft a text.
  • Editing and proofreading: Double the input is twice as nice. If you’ve ordered a translation, the LSP should always send it to a second expert to review (known as a two-phase service).
  • Advice and support: Fully fledged support is important, especially if you’re new to the world of translation. Has the provider offered you a rundown of the technical and operational solutions it offers? If you need assistance, can you get in touch with a specific contact person or do you have to call the same hotline as everyone else? And can the service provider rely on in-house language experts (not to be confused with project managers) to add their voice to the conversation if a cultural question arises?

2. Expertise and experience

Which areas and types of content does the LSP specialize in?

Your skill set – and that of the translator you’re relying on – depends on the sector you work in. If, say, you need texts translated primarily for marketing purposes, you should be knocking on the door of a specialist in transcreation. Have a desk full of legal texts waiting to be translated? A firm providing technical or specialized translations is what you need. Then there’s the all-rounder option: an agency that can cover any content you throw at it. See point 4 for more information about how to distinguish between various providers.

Be sure to ask for reference translations that are relevant to your field of work and the language combinations you are seeking. People who are already working with the LSP are best placed to offer their opinion about the service, so if you don’t want to rely on the agency’s word alone, be sure to seek out their clients as well.

3. Price

How do agencies calculate their fee for language services? And does an affordable price mean a dip in quality?

At first glance, pricing appears simple, with most agencies adopting a per word model. As is usually the case, though, the devil is in the detail. Or seven details, actually, as identified by the market research company Slator when looking at factors that influence translation prices:

1. Language combination (prices per word vary greatly depending on the source and target languages)

2. Translation memory discounts

3. Type of service (with or without proofreading; from-scratch human translation or machine translation)

4. Minimum fees

5. Premium surcharges, e.g. express or weekend jobs, specialist content, security checks

6. Services included, e.g. project management, file formatting and conversion, DTP services

7. Volume discounts

In other words, a cost estimate is the only way to get an accurate price. Most LSPs, for example, have a crawler that can calculate the size of a website (i.e. its text content) at the touch of a button.

A word of warning: even if you’re on a tight budget, you should think twice about going for the agency with the lowest price. If you’re cutting corners, they likely will be, too: as in other industries, the phrase “you get what you pay for” is true of most language service providers. Paying a flat-rate fee or becoming a loyal customer and benefiting in the longer term is a better approach.

4. Provider size and position

Should I go with a small agency or a major LSP?

Let’s take a closer look at the options. It used to be the case that smaller agencies and freelancers dominated the market. In the past couple of decades, however, many companies have joined forces, leading to a host of full-service providers and even a few super-sized agencies – and everything in between. In its Language Service Provider Index, Slator lists five categories of provider:

Super agencies – corporate groups with global reach that can handle all languages, content types and disciplines.

Leaders – firms that dominate a certain language region. Their portfolio of services is usually as extensive as that of the super agencies.

Challengers and boutiques – specialists that often focus on a single area (such as finance or legal) or on individual services like marketing or creative translations. We’re a Challenger agency here at Supertext.

Long tail – the little fish in the pond: small agencies with only a few employees and independent freelancers.

Language service providers

Your choice of partner depends on the project and the size of your own company. But in general:

The larger a provider is, the more resources it can bring to bear. A super agency, for example, will deliver content in all languages 365 days per year – and it’ll do so at speed, even for large volumes of content. Super agencies tend to be generalists. They’re reliable, but their advisors and project managers aren’t about to build a deep personal relationship with you, and they may lack the specialist touch when it comes to your particular needs.

The smaller the agency, the more personal and specialized it will be. For challengers, boutiques and some freelancers, the customer truly is king. And that means you can expect processes and services tailored to your requirements even if you aren’t coming to them with a huge amount of work.

5. Technology and processes

Which technologies are best for automation? Do you need a translation management system (TMS)?

Technology has a major say in how smoothly your translation journey will go. The more automated the processes, the more time and money you will save. In other words, it pays to work with an LSP that prioritizes technology – from CAT tools such as translation memories, termbases and glossaries through to modern machine translation tools.

The larger your project is, the more translation management systems (TMS) and integration come into play. Need something translated into multiple languages? Sending all the files through manually is a recipe for errors and delays. A central platform allows documents to be shared directly between all parties, translation orders to be placed at the click of a button, and jobs to be monitored from a central location using a status tracking tool. Many platforms will also have a visual editor, ensuring all parties have an overview of the project’s context.

Your future LSP should be able to work seamlessly with your existing systems and workflows. Put your favorites through their paces with a demo – from placing the order to billing.

6. Location

Which regions should I look at for specific languages?

As a customer, you have two options: you can either order each language from a provider in that region, or you can work with a firm in your own location that has the capacity to cover all your language needs. To determine which option is better suited to your requirements, consider your business structure.

Say your business is active in multiple markets and you have an internal localization team: it may be a good idea to work with multiple translation partners in the respective markets, as you have sufficient resources to coordinate the projects and an internal team to check the content once it is delivered.

If localization isn’t your thing, it’s better to work with a provider in the same country as you. This will keep all your jobs in one place and allow the LSP to become familiar with your business, so there won’t be any need to provide a new briefing for the local review.


This list is not definitive – it’s just a primer. If you’d prefer not to work with a single LSP, you could look into partnering up with multiple vendors, each with its own area of expertise, with the aim of getting the best of all possible worlds. The drawback here is the amount of coordination required – so be sure to assess ahead of time whether you have the resources for this.

A final word of advice: don’t ignore your gut feeling. If you want to trust your language partner and build a lasting relationship, the chemistry has to be right. Just like any good love affair.

Cover image via iStock



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