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Standards of best practice in translation and localization: where qualified localization practitioners come in

Relevant translation standards use unique terminology to describe key parameters of localization workflows, and each emphasizes important components of localization production in different ways. Through a survey of leading industry standards, we collect the core best practices that must be built into localization workflows.

In the discussion that follows, we’ll consider the following standards in some detail…

Four-Eyes Model

The single most important input into the localization workflow is the qualified, professional talent that produces the target content, namely, translators and editors. This fact may seem obvious, but the implementation of procedures for ensuring work with the best talent available is confounded by the global environment in which localization business is conducted. Localization project managers must distinguish the best talent available from the cacophony of worldwide providers all claiming to be able to do everything! In our industry, translator scammers and unqualified providers misrepresenting their capabilities are not unusual to encounter, especially given the online environment in which communication takes place. Standards establish the minimal qualifications and quality assurance procedures that help us to navigate this quagmire.1

1 See Brandt, Alaina, “Key Components of Successful Translator Recruitment,” The ATA Chronicle.

ISO 17100 establishes clear minimal competences that must be mastered by translators and editors who practice professionally. These minimal competencies are echoed in varying degrees in the standards listed above.

All standards listed are clear on the importance of the “four-eyes” model to the localization workflow. The “four-eyes” model acknowledges the mental acrobatics that is translation, and requires two pairs of “native-language” eyes on the translation product. The first set of eyes belong to the translator, who navigates the unique style, register, and content ambiguities of the source content in the production of the translation product. The second set of eyes belong to the editor, who brings a fresh perspective when checking the developing translation product.

ASTM F2575-14 emphasizes editing as the “first opportunity to confirm specifications compliance” (9.6). The work of the editor is divided into two passes by ASTM.

First, the editor shall compare the target text to the source text and confirm that the target text is complete, accurate, and free from misinterpretations of the source text and that the appropriate terminology has been used throughout. Second, the editor shall read the target text in its entirety, checking for overall coherence and readability, and referring back to the source text only when necessary.

ASTM F2575-14, 9.6 Editing

prEN 15038 issues the following mandate on editing…

The TSP shall ensure that the translation service product is revised… The reviser shall be a person other than the translator and have the appropriate competence in the source and target languages. The reviser shall examine the translation for its suitability for purpose. This shall include, as required by the project, comparison of the source and target texts for terminology consistency, register and style.

Section 5.3.4

GB/T 19363.1-2008 indicates that careful review of “names, data, formulas, quantities, and units” must take place during editing, along with the fundamental checks for accuracy and fluency (English translation of 4.4.4.2). For further verification includes checks for completeness, use of appropriate terminology, correct grammar and punctuation, and that the content complies with client specifications (English translation of 4.4.4.3).

Finally, ISO 17100 requires LSPs to “ensure that target language content is revised” by “a person other than the translator” who has the same competencies required of the translator. This reviser “examine[s] the target language content against the source language content for any errors and other issues, and its suitability for purpose” (5.3.3).

The importance of the four-eyes model cannot be emphasized enough. Rush deadlines are a norm in our industry, and removing processes like editing may be tempting for LSPs trying to meet tight deadlines. Be advised of the pressure placed on the translation process when native language editing is removed. Human error is a natural part of the localization workflow. The likelihood of human error only increases as the pressure to meet tight turnarounds mounts. Editing serves as a best practice check on the translation process to account for that human error, and the translator will generally assume that native language editing is being performed. If editing is to be removed from the localization workflow, that must be communicated to the translator. As professionals, we give the translator the opportunity to make an informed decision about any additional layers of checks that will need to be added at the translation process to account for the lack of editing, and the costs associated with those checks.

More best practices for quality assurance

A nuance to the discussion on the four-eyes model above is also the importance of intent to the design and selection of localization workflows. ASTM F2575-14 notes that certain projects are intended for full globalization, internationalization, localization, and translation (GILT) (such as software) and require customization of the language product to the “cultural aspects of the geographic region and language of specific markets” (1.5.1). On the other hand, implementing full GILT procedures on a project whose product is intended for informative purposes only is an inefficient use of time and costs.

The proper use of specifications and the implementation of terminology management are at the core of successful localization services and projects according to organizations like ISO and ASTM International. To get an understanding of the importance topics takes only a cursory look at available standards. ISO devotes an entire standard to the components of a comprehensive specification. ISO has an entire technical committee devoted to terminology… That’s how important these competences are.

Other core features of best practices for quality assurance include transparency and traceability in processes, and the importance of data security to these topics cannot be overstated. ISO’s mandate that LSPs must have procedures to ensure the “safe and confidential handling, storage, retrieval, archiving and disposal of all relevant data and documents” belonging to clients is a great introduction to the topic (3.2). As localization project managers, we handle confidential intellectual property that belongs to our clients. That content, including intellectual property housed in translation memories, must be handled with care.

Procedures for corrective action are another key best practice. To understand the overall competences needed in quality management, the ISO 9000 family of standards are essential reading.2 In ISO 17100, corrective action is defined as “action taken to correct an error in target language content… or [the] translation process… or a nonconformity to a requirement of this International Standard when conformity has been claimed” (2.5.4). As indicated in ISO/TS 21500 Guidance on project management, each process of a workflow produces a unique deliverable (3.3). To include corrective action procedures in overall workflows requires a thorough understanding of what constitutes a “final” deliverable for each process. If the deliverable at a unique process is not final, corrective action must be carried out to bring the deliverable up to standard before passing the developing product to the subsequent process… Our objective is to avoid discovering errors at the layout process, for example, that should have been caught during editing in order to avoid expensive rework!

2 See descriptions from ISO and ASQ on the ISO 9000 family of standards.

Hopefully you are getting the idea that careful, big picture analysis and planning is required to build best practices into localization processes, and this account of those best practices is not exhaustive by any means. We’ll close this discussion by considering the disclaimer in ASTM F2575-14, that ultimately, standards or guides “cannot replace education or experience and should be used in conjunction with professional judgment” (1.5.2). That’s where qualified localization practitioners come in!

Works cited

“ISO 9000 family – Quality management.” International Organization for Standardization, https://www.iso.org/iso-9001-quality-management.html.

“ISO/TC 37 Language and terminology.” International Organization for Standardization, https://www.iso.org/committee/48104.html.

“Technical committees.” International Organization for Standardization, https://www.iso.org/technical-committees.html.

“What is the ISO 900 standards series?” American Society for Quality, 2019, https://asq.org/quality-resources/iso-9000.

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

Brandt, Alaina. “Key Components of Successful Translator Recruitment.” The ATA Chronicle, American Translators Association, May/June 2017, https://www.ata-chronicle.org/featured/key-components-of-successful-translator-recruitment/.

GB/T 19363.1:2008, Specification for translation service – Part 1: Translation, General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of the People’s Republic of China, Standardization Administration Committee, Singapore, 2008, www.chinesestandard.net. English translation accessed via Google Books, 04 Aug. 2019, http://al10npm.com/GBT19363_1-2008.

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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