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A comparative look at standards on translation and localization competences

A wide variety of skills and personality traits characterize the LPM role. These include the ability to generate process efficiencies and plan to prevent project issues. LPMs also need to be able to research, communicate, collaborate, and solve problems. They need to be organized and very comfortable with technology. The range of skills necessary to perform well in an LPM role is of course much broader than those just mentioned. For LPMs seeking jobs with LSPs, understanding all of the skills that need to be developed is fundamental to preparing for the role and successfully entering the job market.

Translation competences according to standards

Organizations like the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ASTM International have developed explicit competences for translation in relevant standards. In the “Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation,” the ASTM lists source and target language, translation, subject matter, and text types among the competencies necessary to carry out translation (Section 6, “Selecting a Translation Service Provider”). Each competency is described in certain detail as well. 

In European Standard prEN 15038, the European Committee for Standardization adds research, cultural, and technical (translation technology) competencies to those listed by ASTM (Section 3.1 “Basic Requirements – Human resources”). And ISO 17100 “Requirements for translation services” mimics the language of prEN 15038 (in Section 3 “Resources”). According to prEN 15038, overall translation competencies are acquired through these qualifications: “a formal education in translation…, a university degree or equivalent plus a minimum of two years of… experience…, or at least five years of… [translation] experience” (3.1.2).

Localization project management competences in well known standards

The language in standards surrounding core competencies and required qualifications for LPMs is not as well developed. ISO 17100 includes a sentence on LPM competency types, which are: “a basic understanding of the translation services industry and a thorough knowledge of the translation process,… [along with] master[y] of project management skills,” with no further explanatory comments for each (3.1.7). With regards to required qualifications for the role, LPMs can obtain the necessary competencies through “formal or informal training,” though the specifics of that training is mostly left open for definition. Other standards? European Standard prEN 15038 includes no verbiage on LPM competencies. Neither does ASTM F2575-14.

That is not to say that ASTM F2575 misses the importance of the localization project manager. In their Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation, the ASTM defines the localization project manager as the “person who coordinates the various aspects of the project and ensures their proper execution” (3.1.24). Per the ASTM, LPM responsibilities include specifications, terminology and coordination of team members, along with ensuring that projects are on-time, on-budget, and on-spec (3.1.24.1). According to the ASTM, the project manager is essential (as is effective communication!) (7.4-7.5).

“At a minimum, project management, translation, and editing tasks performed by highly qualified individuals at all stages should be considered the default to obtain a translation that meets high quality standards.”

ASTM International, F2575-14 Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation, 5.1.2

LPM competences in ISO/TS 11669 and ISO 21500

Digging deeper into translation standards, we do find explicit recommendations on localization project management competences. Technical Specification ISO/TS 11669 “Translation projects – General guidance” is required reading for any aspiring LPM, as the standard dives deeply into the specification form. ISO/TS 11669 contains explicit guidance on the competences of localization project managers, which include translation tools and relevant software, translation processes, and terminology management (3.2.5 Competences of project managers).

“In addition, proficiency in a second language and previous experience in translation, revision and/or review is desirable.”

International Organization for Standardization, ISO/TC 11669 Technical Specification: Translation projects – General guidance, 3.2.5.

While ISO 21500:2015 Guidance on project management is not specific to the localization industry, this standard too is required reading for any aspiring LPM! This standard lists technical, behavioral, and contextual as explicit competences of the project manager…

• [T]echnical competencies, for delivering projects in a structured way, including the project management terminology, concepts and processes defined in this International Standard;

• [B]ehavioural competencies, associated with personal relationships inside the defined boundaries of the project;

• [C]ontextual competencies, related to the management of the project inside the organization and external environment

International Organization for Standardization, ISO 21500:2015 Guidance on project management, 3.9 Competencies of project personnel.

Further…

“The project environment may impact project performance and success” and includes “project management maturity” (3.5).

“[T]he project manager should tailor the management processes for each project or project phase by determining what processes are appropriate and the degree of rigor to be applied for each process” (4.1).

“The project manager should consider the benefits and their realization as they influence decision-making throughout the project life cycle” (3.4.3).

International Organization for Standardization, ISO 21500:2015 Guidance on project management.

Summary of skills competences according to standards

According to the standards quoted above, localization project management competences include industry knowledge of specification forms, processes, and process customization; interpersonal skills such as communication and the ability to maintain positive relationships; project management skills such as team coordination and making deliveries; knowledge of language and translation including terminology, bilingualism, and an understanding of translation, revision, and review work; along with the ability to use technology and apply knowledge to one’s organizational and project context.

As we’re reminded in ISO 21500, “Although many projects may be similar, each project is unique” (3.2).

This lack of a localization project management standard that collects and expands upon core competences is not unusual. Still, the lack of standards prevents barrier to entry to the field. For any industry trying to professionalize, the acknowledgement of the specialist training required to practice a certain profession is a must.

The actual specialist level of knowledge required of LPMs stands in stark contrast to the educational requirements for the role in place at a majority of LSPs.1 Most LSPs require that their LPMs have an undergraduate level of education, and often the required area of studies is not well defined. As with translation, a graduate level of education and/or experience is more appropriate. Monolingual PMs who have had no personal experience of another language or culture are of a particular disadvantage in a localization project management role. Any educational requirements should reflect that, while also acknowledging that as with translation, bilingualism is not a guarantee of localization competency.

1 See Brandt, Alaina. “Toward Standardization of Professional Project Manager Training in the Localization Industry.” American Translators Association, 59th Annual Conference, 27 Oct. 2018, New Orleans Marriott, New Orleans, LA. Presentation.

The establishment of standard competences is a task that remains to be done for a wide variety of localization roles, including localization engineering and sales. And in fact, one of the most exciting parts of working in the field of localization is witnessing the introduction of new standards alongside the growth and technological advances in the industry.

Works cited

ASTM F2575-14, Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2014, www.astm.org.

Brandt, Alaina. “Toward Standardization of Professional Project Manager Training in the Localization Industry.” American Translators Association, 59th Annual Conference, 27 Oct. 2018, New Orleans Marriott, New Orleans, LA. Presentation.

ISO 17100:2015(E), Translation Services – Requirements for translation services, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015, www.iso.org.

ISO 21500:2015, Guidance on project management, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015, www.iso.org.

ISO/TC 11669: 2012, Translation projects – General guidance, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2012, www.iso.org.

prEN 15038: 2004, Translation services – Service requirements, European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, Belgium, 2004, https://www.cen.eu.

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