Translation and Interpreting Standards – thoughts from the 2017 FIT Congress

NZSTI member Elizabeth Sekizaki offers her thoughts on the 2017 FIT Congress. 

I recently attended the FIT Congress in Brisbane, Australia.

In this post I would like to share what I learnt about translation and interpreting standards, including standards from ISO and ASTM International.

One of the sessions was entitled ‘PANEL: How do I educate my client? A Case for International Professional Standards’. The discussion focused on ISO standards. FIT has liaison status with ISO, so they can provide guidance on translation and interpreting to ISO committees. One such standard is ISO17100 for Translation Services. (This is currently being revised.)

It was suggested that translators could use ISO as a tool for educating clients – by referring clients to the relevant ISO standard as an explanation of industry best-practice, or using the standard to differentiate themselves from the competition, i.e. ‘I work according to the ISO17100 Standard’ or ‘Our processes are compliant with ISO17100’.

I was interested to learn that translators or translation companies can follow the standards without actually being certified by an ISO standards organisation, but whether you simply follow them or become certified, you still need to access the standard in question – they can be purchased on the ISO website (118 Swiss Francs).

(In future there will be specialised standards, e.g. Legal Translation, and ISO have said that they need more input from experts in various fields, so if you are interested, it might be worthwhile contacting the NZSTI International Liaison subcommittee, who are the channel for communicating with FIT!)

Obviously, to become ISO-certified for a particular standard will take time and money (and I am sure there are others out there than can elaborate on this), so the question is, is it worth it? I can’t really answer this question, but in another FIT session Isabel Schwagereit attempted to do just that. She is an ISO-certified conference interpreter and translator, and she had some interesting things to say.

She spent about half a year getting herself organised for the audit to gain ISO17100 certification, and spent hundreds of Euros in the process. She mentioned having to significantly reorganise her work practices (e.g. folder structures), and having to complete extra documentation which has to be fitted into her normal work. She has been certified for a few years now, and her conclusion was that having the certification meant she could command higher rates, and has a different standing in the market. Companies that are also ISO-certified (often for different standards) appreciated the fact that she was certified, since they understood the effort she had gone to. ISO17100 includes a revision requirement (a reviser for your translations), and Isabel mentioned that for some jobs, such as certified translations, she makes a point of making it clear to the client that the revision process wouldn’t be undertaken in those cases. But her conclusion was: yes, it is worth it.

Another translation standard is ASTM International’s F2575-14 (currently being revised).

This standard can be purchased for $51 (USD).

ASTM is older than ISO (established in 1898 versus 1947). It was originally the ‘American Society for Testing Materials’, but later became ASTM International due to the global use of its standards.

The ASTM standard seems to be quite different from ISO17100, but still attempts to provide ‘best practice’ for the translation industry. The current version is a meant to be a guide. However, future versions are likely to be focused on ‘practice’ such that a third party will be able to provide a certification that you are following the standard. Unlike ISO, individual practitioners can have direct participation in future development of standards (with ISO, you must go through a liaison organisation, i.e. FIT).

There seems to be quite a lot of information on the ASTM website about the translation standard (could be worth a read), and I am sure other practitioners in New Zealand will have experiences to share as well.

My conclusion? I’m not sure yet – more research will be required as to whether following one of these standards is worth it or not. But it was certainly food for thought.

(Disclaimer: I am not an expert on this topic – I am merely sharing my observations from the FIT conference.)

By Elizabeth Sekizaki

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