Volume 6, No. 3 
July 2002

  Moustafa Gabr





Reader Survey Results

Index 1997-2002

  Translator Profiles
Aerial Trap and the Lao People's Republic
by Peter Wheeler

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
What Every Novice Translator Should Know
by Antar S.Abdellah
Translation Economics 101
by Danilo Nogueira
Translator Education
Quality Assurance in Translator Training
by Moustafa Gabr 
Positive Transfer: A Neuropsychological Understanding of Interpreting and the Implications for Interpreter Training
by Lin Wei, Ph.D.

  Financial Translation
Implications in Translating Economic Texts
by Guadalupe Acedo Domínguez and Patricia Edwards Rokowski, Ph.D.
Saisir les subtilités qui existent entre l'anglais et le français ?
by Frédéric Houbert

English to Japanese—to What Extent Can Translation Be Accurate?
by Angela Loo Siang Yen

  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature—A Fond Farewell
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators’ Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Translators’ Job Market

Letters to the Editor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

Translation Journal
Translator Education

Quality Assurance in Translator Training

by Moustafa Gabr, FIL



ne could wonder: "Is quality assurance in translator training possible? Can we effectively and efficiently put together training programs and ensure the quality of their outcomes?" In other words, can we design and conduct a set of translator training activities that adequately meets pre-established requirements? Yes! The key is to understand the trainee and market expectations and to adequately meet, not exceed, them. Following is a discussion of an approach to quality assurance based on the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM). This initial input represents a preliminary adaptation of the TQM philosophy to translator training. Its aim is to establish a road map for the training of translators and to provide some practical information and tools to help implement continuous improvements in translator-training programs.

What is TQM?

The key to improving the quality of translator training programs is to empower training team members and to improve the processes that define, produce, and support training activities.
Total Quality Management (TQM) is a philosophy directly pertaining to management concepts and practices. It has evolved in the world of business from Dr. W. Edwards Deming's theories in the early 1980s on how to increase productivity and quality in all types of organizations, small, medium, and large, whether private or public. TQM is best defined by Beich as "a customer-focused, quality-centered, fact-based, team-driven, senior management-led process to achieve an organization's strategic imperative through continuous process improvement" (Beich 1994: 1-2). TQM is a way of thinking, not a system, that encompasses the inherent elements of product/service (training) quality, process (program development and implementation) control, quality assurance (commitment to customers' needs), and continuous (program quality) improvement through timely interventions.

In translator training, "organization" is narrowly defined as the translation department, while TQM in this context refers to a set of concepts and tools for getting everyone involved in translator training focused on continuous improvement, so that quality is constantly assured and maintained concurrently with any development that may emerge in terms of customer needs. In simple terms, it is a continuous process, through emphasis on upgrading administrative as well as academic functions, to better understand customer requirements and improve training quality.

Why do we need TQM?

To answer this question, let us briefly consider the cost of doing things wrong, the price paid for non-quality. This includes inadequate product/service (training), customer dissatisfaction, unfulfilled market needs (service), waste of resources, and damage to the reputation of the training provider. I think we all agree that this is more than enough to close down the business (department).

On the other hand, TQM, if adopted, has many benefits:

  • Ensuring and increasing product quality
  • Ensuring and increasing service quality
  • Ensuring and increasing customer satisfaction
  • Establishing a new culture which stimulates growth and competitiveness
  • Reducing administrative and operating costs
  • Enhancing teamwork
  • Establishing a process of continuous improvement
  • Survival and competitiveness on the market

Let us now discuss Beich's definition of TQM and adapt it to translator training.

  1. TQM is customer-focused

    When we talk about actors involved in translator training, we actually talk about department management, administrators, course developers, trainers, trainees, and markets represented by employers. Traditional training specialists, on the one had, assume that the training provider is the service/product supplier while the trainees and the markets are the customers. TQM, on the other hand, is based on a broader view that each actor is a supplier and a customer at the same time. Beich points out:

    Always think of your customers as suppliers first. Work closely with them so that they can supply you with the information you need and, in turn, you can supply them with the products and services that meet their needs and expectations.

    (Beich 1994: 15)

    In this sense, we can classify the actors involved in translator training into two categories: internal customers, who are at the same time internal suppliers, and external customers, who are at the same time external suppliers. The first group, which is the training provider, includes department management, administrators, course developers, and trainers; the second group, which is the customer receiving the training/service, includes trainees and markets.

    But how can we establish these shifting-back-and-forth customer-supplier relationships?

    Fig. 1: Interchangeable Supplier-Customer Relationship in TQM-Based Translator Training

    The translation department offers training programs to adequately meet market needs. As such, the department can be viewed as a service supplier and the market as a customer. In order to create a service that will meet market expectations, the department seeks information on the needs of employers. This information can be obtained through various tools such as interviews, questionnaires, field visits, etc. The employer thus becomes a supplier (of information) and the department is in a position of a customer seeking data. This interdependent relationship requires close cooperation, mutual support, and concerted efforts on the part of the supplier/customer and the customer/supplier to best fulfill their actual needs—quality training based on accurate information.

    These interchangeable roles also exist within the same translation department. The department, as I said, includes management members, administrators, course developers, and trainers. Management establishes a Vision, a Mission, and Goals for the department in order to direct and guide the training team members in performing their duties. It also provides them with training resources and the necessary information on available facilities and constraints. Thus, the department is in a position of a supplier and the training team in a position of a customer receiving guidance and information. But in order for the department management to realistically formulate the Vision, Mission, and Goals statement, it needs specific information about market needs (mainly used by administrators), availability of materials and training aids (mainly used by course developers), and trainee needs (mainly used by trainers). Thus, the department management assumes the position of a customer and the training team assumes the position of a supplier.

    The developers, as a supplier, have to brief the administrators, as a customer, on training potentials in the department to be considered when they meet with employers to discuss their expectations and conduct market needs analysis. The administrators, as a supplier, on the other hand, sit with developers, as a customer, to brief them on the needs of the market, that is, what skills employers believe to be essential for trainee translators to master so that they can do the job required by their organizations after graduation. This information will guide the course developers in designing a program that would adequately meet market needs.

    The trainers, as a supplier, provide necessary information to the course developers, a customer, on trainee needs and equally important information on teacher abilities and skills so that program design would be based on real needs and actual capabilities. Armed with information on market expectations, trainee needs, and teacher abilities, the course developers design the program and provide, as a supplier, the trainers, the customer, with a tailor-made training program. This information will guide the course developers in effectively putting together a program that will meet trainee needs.

    The trainees, as a customer, attend the training facilitated by the trainers in their capacity as a service provider. During and after training, the trainees, as a supplier, give the trainers, a customer, feedback on the training, to what degree it meets their needs, and what other topics, facilities, and techniques the trainees think would be beneficial to them.

    The market, i.e. the employers, provides internship and summer on-the-job training for trainee translators. The trainees in turn participate in translating (under supervision) and get involved in performing other administrative work for the employers. Thus, the supplier-customer-supplier relationships can be established.

    These integrated mutual supplier-customer relationships can be illustrated as follows:

    Fig. 2: Interrelated Supplier-Customer Relationships in TQM-Based Translator Training

  2. TQM is quality-centered

    "Quality begins with the customer" is a popular slogan of the quality movement. As long as the customers are the ones who receive the product or service, only they can tell what they want and how they want it. This notion is further supported by Beich, who argues that "quality is the measure of satisfaction that occurs between a customer and supplier that only they can define" (Beich 1994: 25). The quality of training, adequately covering performance gaps and satisfying customer needs, is dependent upon the quality of effort exerted in every phase in the training cycle. It follows that quality must be sought in every step in the overall training process to ensure the quality of the outcome. To do this, training should be viewed as a controlled collective undertaking that requires close cooperation, coordination and meticulous evaluation by all actors involved in the training.

  3. TQM is fact-based

    As we can see in the customer focus above, planning of the TQM process is based on the exchange of information among customers and suppliers. In order for the TQM effort to be successful, it must be based on fact, not assumptions. Each step in the process must be planned and implemented according to data obtained from the respective customer. Data, as Beich argues, is of paramount importance in TQM, and its relevance, not quantity, is what should be sought. Data must be accurate, consistent, and updated. You need to gather data pertaining to your department's vision and goals, data on your internal/external customers. As a start, you need to obtain data on the present situation in the department: its vision, mission, and goals, resources, facilities and constraints, etc. You also need to gather accurate information about your customers' needs and expectations. You need to collect data on the progress made in the TQM effort in the department, difficulties and their causes, so that problems can be anticipated and prevented. All this data should be made available and analyzed. The results should be translated into meaningful measures that can help improve the training, meet customer satisfaction, meet department goals, and help make fact-based decisions.

  4. TQM is team-driven

    The integrated closed-chain relationships in the customer-focused principle explained above best represent the concept of teamwork. Beich stresses that "TQM, teamwork. Teamwork, TQM. You can hardly mention one without the other" (p. 68). This teamwork is the direct result of a shared vision, coordination among internal actors to achieve a common mission, cooperation between internal and external actors to achieve common objectives, mutual agreement, and collective decision-making effort.

    According to the traditional training perspective, there are two teams, that is, the training provider on the one hand, and the customer on the other; but according to the TQM philosophy in translator training, we can have three types of teams:


    Fig. 3: Teams in TQM-Based Translator Training

    • Macro Teams:
      1. Training provider (translation department)
      2. Customer (trainees and market)
    • Micro Teams:
      1. Translation department management
      2. Administrators
      3. Course developers
      4. Trainers
      5. Trainees
      6. Market (employers)
    • Interdisciplinary Teams:
      1. Translation department management, administrators, and market
      2. Translation department management, administrators, course developers, and trainers
      3. Administrators and course developers
      4. Course developers and trainers
      5. Trainers and trainees

    This makes a total of 13 teams. Other teams that can be added to the list , if required, include visiting trainers, external consultants, hotels, tourist agencies, etc.

  5. TQM is management-led

    Beich argues that "TQM is led from the top" (p. 101) and that most TQM efforts fail as a result of insufficient management commitment. The concept of commitment here, according to Beich, refers to providing necessary training, tools, resources, guidance, effective communication channels and, most importantly, employee empowerment, that is, encouraging and supporting shared accountability, delegation of authority, creativity, and implementation. For the TQM process to be successful, management is held responsible for removing all barriers that prevent creative thinking and innovative initiatives. It is also held responsible for creating an appropriate environment that can foster trust, eliminate fear at the workplace, encourage ideas, and enable employees to perform their tasks at ease. Why should management be held responsible for the success of TQM? Because, as Deming argues, management leads in setting a unified vision for the department; it formulates new policies and procedures and decides on those that need to be changed within the TQM framework; it introduces the new concept of quality; it controls the resources required for the TQM effort; management members are leaders and set models for the other employees, and therefore, they play inspiring roles for the others.

  6. TQM is process-oriented

    A process, according to Beich, is "a series of steps that when combined produce a result" (p.36). TQM-based approach to the training of translators assumes that:

    • Training can be broken down into tasks, which are series of related steps.
    • All related tasks performed to accomplish a desired result are grouped into a process (e.g. market needs analysis, material development, etc.).
    • Actors assigned a series of related tasks, i.e. a process, have interdependent roles in the training effort.
    • A group of related processes can be seen as an integral phase (e.g., pre-program development phase).
    • The practice of breaking down training development into processes enables the training team members to focus on problems and analyze the root causes.
    • By adopting a methodological approach using various quality control tools, such as process flow analysis and customer surveys, the training team can see their meaningful contributions and interdependent roles and how they fit together into the department's mission.

    A process is usually initiated to meet a customer need. This implies that the customer will have to be involved (as explained in the supplier-customer relationship) from the very beginning of the process. This early involvement will eliminate errors in satisfying the customer need because the process will be steered by factual data provided by the customer, not by assumptions.

How to Start?

The TQM philosophy in translator training can be based on six main principles that one must be fully aware of before initiating a TQM process in the department:

Principle 1: Each actor in the training cycle has a customer, is a service provider, and is held responsible for quality. As I explained before, the trainer is the customer of the course designer (the supplier), who provides the product (course material); while the course developer is the customer of the trainer (the supplier), who provides feedback and evaluation information (product) to enlighten the course designer on trainee needs and expectations.
Principle 2: Quality, i.e. consistent commitment, without errors, to internal/external customer needs, can and must be managed. This entails the internal/external supplier being aware of and conforming to customer requirements.
Principle 3: To achieve quality, all actors involved in the training cycle must have a zero-defect attitude in what they do. A new strategic thinking, i.e, a different attitude must be adopted. This also applies to the service/product provided to others (information, material, training, etc.) or inputs received from others (information on market requirements, trainees' expectations and feedback on training, etc.).
Principle 4: Quality must be contemplated against the price of non-quality. Quality must be measured against the "zero-defect" standard that should be applied as a measurement to all administrative and academic functions.
Principle 5: Processes, not people, are the problem. Problems must be prevented, not just solved. Use the Deming cycle of Plan, Do, Check, and Act in every process. In other words, review and measure process performance against set standards; identify process shortcomings; analyze process problems to find out the causes; propose realistic solutions; and make a process change.
Principle 6: Quality improvements must be continuous. It follows that quality improvement is in itself a top priority for the training provider. Quality improvement must be planned and organized. Use a structured methodology for process improvement. Measure the effects of the process; communicate with the training team members and the customers; make improvements whenever required; and integrate the improvement process into daily operations.

Once these TQM principles have been assimilated, an action plan can be launched to initiate a TQM process in translator training. The key to improving the quality of translator training programs is to empower training team members and to improve the processes that define, produce, and support training activities. To accomplish anything, one needs a defined goal, methods to achieve it, and tools to gauge one's progress. Following is a chart showing the actors to be involved and the processes to be performed in the application of the TQM philosophy to translator training:


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