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Translation Standards

Although, over the years, the translation and localization industry has produced quite a few standards aimed at assessing and/or assuring the quality of translated technical documents, a uniform and comprehensive standard setting out clear requirements for any language services vendor has so far not been available. Most standards published in the 1970s and 1980s focussed on issues indirectly related to the translation process itself, such as formatting and presentation (e.g. ISO 2384:1977 Documentation - Presentation of Translations).

In what follows, I briefly want to outline the contents of two standards, plus the European draft standard for translation services, we have found most useful in elaborating our own quality assurance procedures and methodology for technical translation work, namely the Italian standard UNI 10574, the German standard DIN 2345, and the draft European standard prEN-15038

UNI 10574

Primarily defines the requirements and procedures that providers of translation and interpretation services should implement in their daily activities. More specifically, it provides guidelines and requirements for:

  • managing the production cycle (project management, production, assessments)
  • the infrastructure that is at the vendor's disposal
  • selection criteria for hiring staff, and for training newly hired personnel

DIN 2345

Is a more ambitious standard, and covers the translation services themselves, as well as the contractual framework in which they are provided, and the general working procedures that should be applied. The standard comprises five sections dealing with:

  1. The source text or original text
    This section establishes the responsibility of the client for providing a linguistically and technically accurate and correct source document. The translator, on the other hand, is responsible for acquiring additional information on the specific technical field, or subject matter involved (e.g. through the consultation with independent experts or, better still, with the client's technical staff).
  2. The selection of the translator
    The standard focuses on the technical competence of the translator, the observation of deadlines, and the access to appropriate reference tools, such as online and printed dictionaries, and technical tools such as translation memories and terminology management software.
  3. The contract between customer and translation vendor
    This section basically covers the steps between the reception of the source text and the start of the translation work. A formal contract is rarely drawn up for translation services, except for very large projects. The basic agreements are generally set out in the quote or the order form, which may be signed by the customer. That document should at least contain an agreement on the deadline, and on any additional services required (DTP, terminology extraction, additional proof-reading requirements, etc.).
  4. The target text or translated text
    In this respect, DIN 2345 specifies that the target document must meet the linguistic standards of the target language. Furthermore, the content must be true to the original text. In the absence of any specific agreement with the client, all source text fragments should be translated, including footnotes or end notes, tables, appendices, and text in figures. Specific symbols and measurements must be adapted to the target language conventions.
  5. Proofreading
    On this topic, the standard is quite brief, stating only that the translation should be checked for correctness of technical and terminological content, completeness, adequacy with the terms stipulated in the contract, order form, or services agreement.

The above standards are, in my opinion, the most useful standards available to the translation industry today.

prEN-15038, a European Quality Standard for Translation Services

The work of the members of CEN/BTTF 138 Taskforce on the future "European Quality Standard for Translation Services", which started in 2000, has already resulted in the formulation of some very useful new concepts, as evidenced in preliminary papers and comments made available to the public (see, e.g. the website of the Localization Industry Standards Association at www.lisa.org), and the published draft standard prEN-15038:2004).

Among the most important innovations to be found in the draft version of the standard, is the precise definition of the terms "revision" and "review".

According to prEN-15038 (par. 5.3.4), the "revision" of a translation should be a "comparison of the source and target texts for terminology consistency, register and style". So revising a translation implies confronting the translated text with the original, to check whether the translation is accurate, adequate, complete, etc.

A "review" (par. 5.3.5), on the other hand, is defined as a "monolingual review to assess the suitability of the final translation for the agreed purpose". Thus, it is the act of proof-reading the translation without looking at the original document. At this stage it is assumed that all translation and language issues have been resolved, so that the "reviewer" can concentrate fully on the legibility, fluidity, and technical adequacy of the translation. The draft standard also explicitly states that both the reviser and the reviewer "should have domain competence".

This formal definition of the steps involved in what was hitherto quite indiscriminately referred to as "editing", "reviewing", "proof-reading", "revising", "checking",... a translation is a major step forward that can help to clearly state the expectations and requirements of both customers, and translators.

The "European Quality Standard for Translation Services" EN-15038 will be the first standard to address not only the translation process itself, but also a number of other processes that are involved in the translation supply chain, from initial project specification, over production and revision, to the final delivery to the customer, and even invoicing. A brief summary of the content of the projected content of EN-15038 can be found on the website of the EU (this link opens a pdf-file). EN-15038 is scheduled for publication in 2006.

The Translation Methodology section explains how we incorporated the main concepts of the three standards discussed above, in our quality assurance procedures and translation process.

Thierry Baillet
Managing Director
Translink Technical Translations