Once again, STAR UK is proud to announce that we have been successfully audited and retain our ISO 17100 certification.

Well done them, you might think. But what does it have to do with you as a translation buyer?

We know that it can be difficult to choose a translation partner. An initial Google search gives a multitude of translation companies, all of whom offer similar services.

How can you choose between them?

Many translation buyers are not linguists and have no means of judging the quality of the translations that they provide.

So, how do you judge?

Do you choose the cheapest? Do you choose the supplier with the most convincing website? Friendliest project manager?

I’m sure there will be people out there who have chosen based on these criteria. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. Each one is a valid consideration.

However, I would suggest that first on your list should be whether they possess the ISO 17100 certification. Then you can move on to other factors.

Why is ISO 17100 important?

Translation companies that are certified as conforming to the ISO 17100 standard are able to effectively demonstrate that they have processes in place to ensure that they deliver a quality translation service that meets the client’s specifications.

ISO 17100 supersedes the now-withdrawn EN 15038 standard that was published by CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation in 2006.

Previously, translation companies that wanted to demonstrate their commitment to quality management sought certification to ISO 9001 (Quality Management) which did not address certain issues that were specific to the translation industry.

What does the ISO 17100 standard apply to?

The ISO 17100 standard applies to translations, i.e. written content. It is worth noting that it excludes interpreting services, as well as post-editing of text from machine translation. Both of these are covered under other standards, some of which are still in development.

What are the key concepts of ISO 17100?

The ISO 17100 international standard has two key concepts: to define a standard process for translation service providers to follow, and to define requirements for the resources they use.

I try to avoid jargon in this blog, so I’ll simplify it further.

Translation companies must follow a standard process and they must make sure that the translators they use are capable of delivering a good translation.

What are the required skills and qualifications?

The full ISO 17100 specification document can be found here. It lists all of the core competences that a translator should have.

It comes down to having knowledge of the source and target language, of translation theory and of any translation tools such as glossaries and translation memory software.

The translation company must ensure that every employee or third-party supplier who works on projects that comply with the ISO 17100 standard has the relevant qualifications.

There are three options:

  1. Has obtained a Masters degree in translation, linguistics or language studies
  2. Has obtained a Bachelors degree in translation, linguistics or language studies and has the equivalent of two years’ full-time professional experience in translation.
  3. Has the equivalent of five years’ full-time professional experience in translation.

Possessing one of the above ensures that the supplier has the skills needed to deliver a translation that meets the customer’s requirements.

What is the process for projects?

Every project should be coordinated by a project manager who is responsible for ensuring that the process is followed.

The project must then be translated and checked by a separate reviser. Optional further steps include a monolingual review of the target language content, proofreading of the target language content and finally a check against any project specifications to ensure that it complies with the client’s project brief.

The reviser must also comply with the qualification requirements listed in ISO 17100.

What the translation agencies responsibilities?

When you buy translation services from an agency that complies with the requirements of ISO 17100, you know that they have processes in place to deal with recruitment of qualified staff, they have project workflows in place to deal with various customer requirements, as well as any terminology or correction requests, and that the translations they deliver have been worked on by at least two qualified and experienced translators.

And once you’ve established that, then you can pick the quotation from the nicest project manager, if you so choose.