ISO 17100: 10 Questions about the New Translation Services Standard, Answered

Posted by Libor Safar on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 @ 11:00 AM

Standards for translation servicesWithout too much publicity, ISO 17100, the new international standard for translation services, has made it to one of the last pre-approval stages, after a journey which effectively started in 2011. It is set to be released later in 2014 or in 2015. Is this standard going to shatter the current way of providing translation services into pieces, or is this going to be just a blip without any major impact? Here’s what you need to know about ISO 17100.

1. Who is behind ISO 17100?

ISO 17100 was prepared by the International Standards Organization’s Technical Committee ISO/TC 37, Terminology and other language and content resources, Subcommittee SC 5, Translation, interpreting and related technology. It traces back to the current European standard for translation services, EN 15038, released in 2006. Standards are reviewed every five years, and since the Vienna agreement encourages issuing standards on the highest, international level, and avoiding duplication between European and international standards, an initiative from several national standards organizations led to work on this ISO standard in 2011.

2. How much are EN 15038 and ISO 17100 really different?

EN 15038 forms the basis of ISO 17100. The current version reflects the many discussions and votes of the ISO committee, but ISO 17100 will be very similar to EN 15038. We expect that today’s certified translation services providers will not need significant adjustments in their quality management systems to comply with the new international standard ISO 17100.

Since there are few substantive changes, you would think there is not much to complain about: ISO 17100 simply transfers the original EN 15038 requirements to the ISO framework. But we believe that the current draft does not contain some essential information and is perhaps too generic to bring much value as a brand-new standard.

3. What resource types does ISO 17100 define?

Translators, revisers, reviewers, proofreaders and project managers, similar to EN 15038. The required qualifications for translators are also broadly similar to EN 15038. Specifically, translators should have documented evidence that they can meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • a recognized graduate qualification in translation from an institution of higher learning;
  • a recognized graduate qualification in any other field from an institution of higher learning plus two years’ full-time professional experience in translating;
  • five years’ full-time professional experience in translating;
  • a certificate of competence in translation awarded by an appropriate government body.

The last requirement is new, and so is one for domain competence, as the ability to understand and manage content produced in the source language content domain. But the standard stops short of requiring a proof of this domain expertise.

In general, these qualification requirements are potentially an area of missed opportunity to embrace new trends and developments in the industry. In practice, customers often require translators with a wider range of qualifications or skills, and those specified in the standard may not be of great relevance to many of them, and the requirements may be seen as too restrictive.

4. Does ISO 17100 tackle quality requirements or metrics?

No. ISO 17100 is a process standard, and deals primarily with the translation process as such, including pre- and post-translation activities. It does not aspire to define quality or quality metrics. It sets conditions for achieving quality by following the translation process steps it defines.

This is possibly another missed opportunity, though it is likely that trying to define linguistic QA process and metrics as an international standard would be a very tall order, given the number of parties involved.

5. What translation steps does the standard define?

  • Translation, including a translator's check of their own work.
  • Revision by a reviser, who needs to be a person other than the translator. Such a revision is an obligatory part of the process. Revisers examine the translation output for any errors and other issues, and its suitability for purpose. This includes comparing source and target versions.
  • Review, which is an optional step, designed to assess the suitability of the translation output for the agreed purpose and domain, and recommend corrective measures.
  • Proofreading, as an optional pre-publication check.
  • Final verification of the project against specifications, and release.

As a new thing compared with EN 15038, the standard also requires having a process in place for handling client feedback for assessment of their satisfaction and any appropriate corrective action.

6. What options exist for LSPs?

Similar to EN 15038, service providers may opt for declaration of conformity, registration (both without any external review included), or standard certification by accredited certifiers.

7. What has been the current reception of ISO 17100 specifications?

GALA — who has worked on the ISO 17100 standard since becoming an ISO A-Liaison in June, 2012, notes in their ISO A-Liaison Annual Report 2014 that “currently available standards reflect traditional translation processes without including such common current processes as Machine Translation (MT) and linguistic QA methodologies, resource requirements, tools and processes, etc." The industry has evolved — in the areas of technology, crowd, Agile/on-demand and cloud, for instance — and the standards have not kept pace.

Most importantly, many feel that there is one major omission: post-editing for MT. GALA objects loudly, and that matters because they play an important role as the largest industry association, helping to ensure that standards meet current industry needs.

8. So does ISO 17100 tackle Machine Translation in any way?

No. In its definition of scope, the standard states clearly that "The use of raw output from machine translation plus post-editing is outside the scope of this International Standard." Yet as MT becomes more popular, more viable and more easily deployable, providers and clients agree that linguists need specific expertise in post-editing. For example, these linguists must be familiar with how Machine Translation tools work, the quality issues with the output, the varying levels of quality targets, and how to post-edit towards them.

9. Is there any standard that would deal with MT?

ISO 18587, also currently in development, outlines requirements for MT and post editing. Very unfortunately, though, ISO 18587 states that qualification of the post-editor should match the translator qualifications in ISO 17100. And yet, we know better: asserting that the two resources are necessarily the same presents a pretty big obstacle to the effective use of MT.

Additional to the problems with the qualifications of post-editors, ISO 18587 does not distinguish between light versus full post-editing. These types of post-editing are fundamentally different; “light” post-editing aims at generating understandable text while using as much MT output as possible, while “full” post-editing should result in high quality content that is indistinguishable from human translation.

10. What are these standards actually for?

Translation-related ISO standards establish the requirements for translation agencies to provide top quality services. Many of our clients — especially life-sciences clients where quality is literally a matter of life or death — expect adherence to these standards. For a complete overview, check our recent blog post on what standards govern medical device translation in the EU.

ISO certification increases customer confidence and gives reassurance that an LSP follows a recognized framework; these highly regulated businesses require the assurance of controls via a recognized management system. Certification against these standards should show the LSP’s capability to provide a quality service through a fully traceable system.

What is your view of the upcoming ISO 17100 standard? Share your likes, dislikes or any other comments below.

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