How Quality Standards Help Translators Succeed

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modlingua profileBy Margaret Wiens

The advent of globalization has led to an ever-increasing need for translation services around the world. In fact, the demand was so high and so sudden that for many years no regulations could be standardized. Translators simply relied on their own beliefs and experiences about what quality translation should entail, but ultimately there were no guidelines that translators or employers could use to verify that the translation was an accurate, readable representation of the source text. In the interest of protecting both parties, quality standards were developed in various countries at both the national and, more recently, the individual level.
 
Quality standards—both linguistic and non-linguistic—have different applications and uses for translators and their clients. Adapting a certain set of quality standards may be a condition of membership to a translation association such as the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario (ATIO). These standards may include specifications for the grammar and style of the target language, term usage and formatting, as well as a general methodology for terminological research and self-editing. The coveted title of “certified translator” tells potential clients in two short words that the translator will employ the quality standards of that association throughout their work. Translators or companies can also be certified by standardization organizations, which can add another level of authority to their name, designating them as language professionals and showcasing their training, skills and qualifications.
 
These standards may also be voluntary but nonetheless useful for language professionals. Translators who lack the experience necessary to apply for certification from a professional association may still use quality standards in their self-marketing practices. By advertising that they prescribe to a certain set of standards, whether it be EN 15038, CAN CGSB 131.10-2008 or ISO 17100:2015, the translator is communicating to potential clients their personal beliefs about quality in translation and the duties they expect to perform for every project they accept. Translators may also choose to formulate their own set of standards based on those of other standardization organizations, as well as their experiences as a language service provider. Freelancers may find this practice particularly useful because it may allow them to distinguish themselves from their competitors and attract clients that share their values. Furthermore, they will be able to avoid problematic projects and instead find clients that will both compensate them fairly for their work and with whom they can develop a long-standing professional relationship.
 
Once a translator is approached for a project, quality standards will continue to help them when communicating with the client. It is important that the two parties reach a consensus on which services the translator will provide and how long the process should take before beginning the project. In so doing, both parties will have equal expectations for the project and legal recourse if certain stipulations in the contract are not met. Quality standards can also give translators the opportunity to educate the client on what services they should be asking for and what should be included in a project. Then, if the client is amenable to additional services such as editing, revision, post-editing, proofreading, source language editing, formatting or subtitling, the translator can provide those services or recommend a colleague.
 
Quality standards also encompass the unification of terminology, which allows the process to become more efficient and gives translators a starting point when encountering new projects and domains. This is especially important for effective project management because access to term bases and translation memories enables more new translators with less experience in a domain to learn the correct terminology in the early stages of a project. Furthermore, spending less time researching terminology also enables the translator to allocate more time to sentence structure, idiomatic phrasing, grammar and logical flow, creating a higher quality text in the process. Quality standards not only benefit current translators, but also the future ones. Having a set of standards to strive for provides translation associations and academic institutions with the tools to better train the next generation of translators, and the students with the context to fully understand the need for high quality translation in their work and the industry as a whole. As standardization continues to evolve, new translators will incorporate these philosophies into their methodology, and their skills and confidence will only improve over time.


In the end, quality standards in translation must not serve as a strict set of rules that we impose on all translated material, as this does not guarantee an accurate translation. It is widely recognized that every text has a unique message, which will in turn be interpreted differently by different cultures and contexts. Rather, quality standards must remain guidelines for project management and the widespread availability and utilization of the proper resources. Until a universal quality assessment method is perfected, the best way to ensure high quality is to continue to train both new and experienced translators in writing, reading comprehension, communication and translation technology, and to provide constructive feedback so that translators can continue to strive for the highest quality standards.
 
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Sources
Malcolm Williams "The Application of Argumentation Theory to Translation Quality Assessment." Meta 462 (2001): 326–344.
DOI: 10.7202/004605ar
Wikipedia. Translation-quality standards. July 6, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation-quality_standards

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