BURG Translations Blog

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What does quality assurance look like for a translation project

Some clients ask how a translation project can have quality assurance and how that differs from “rereading” the translation.  Quality assurance is actually much more than checking text and is actually considered separate from reviewing the text because the reviewer needs to be a specialist translator, while the rest of the quality assurance activities do not require linguistic capabilities.  Below is how we break down quality assurance: Read more

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Your file’s journey through the translation process

Not every client wants to know what exactly a language service provider (LSP) does when translating a typical document.  Other clients think they already know. We want to be as transparent as possible – including posting our processes on our website.  Below is a simplified look of every activity in a typical translation project: Read more

Variations in application language service providers

Variations in application of the ISO 17100 to a translation company

About 80% of the time we get the opportunity to earn the business of a new client it is because they were hurt by another language service provider (LSP).  While all LSPs offer the same service, few explain how they do it. As a result, the quality of the translations can vary significantly. Is the translation good? Is it basically Google Translate? Is the right terminology being used?

We interviewed our own ISO 9001 and ISO 17100 auditor to learn how LSPs can possibly offer such variable work if we’re all certified to the same standard.  Below is a summary of the answer:

  • The ISO 17100 is not dependent on the 9001
  • The ISO17100 is not an accredited standard like the ISO 9001 
  • Not every project situation is defined in the standard
  • Transparency is not defined in the 17100   

A lot of the issues comes down to flexibility of doing business and transparency in explaining this flexibility to clients.  Clients do not tend to know both the source and target language, and while they may have multilingual staff, their language skills may not be adequate enough in both languages to accurately judge.  

The ISO 17100 is not an accredited standard

More well-known standards like the ISO 9001 are accredited, while the ISO17100 is not – it’s a guidance standard. The key difference between an accredited standard and a non-accredited standard is that conformance depends on the opinion of the auditor, accounting for their understanding of the language industry, which might come solely from the one organization they audit, and nobody else.  Since the standard is not accredited, the auditor’s own work is not audited by an accredited body, like the American National Standards Institution (ANSI) National Accreditation Board, or ANAB. Once the auditor decides if an LSP conforms to the ISO 17100 standard, the documentation they create to justify conformance may never be read by anyone again outside of the LSPs.  

In theory, the auditing agency has more incentive to claim the LSP is in conformance than not, but in practice, an LSP can maintain conformance rather easily because the ISO 17100 isn’t defined by a perfect translation framework that prescribes procedures for every translation project scenario.

Not every project situation is defined in the standard

The standard is 11 pages long, not including the introduction and Annex.  About 45% (Pages 1 to part of page 5) is allocated purely to the definition of terms.  The list of terms help explain the important nuances between activities like “translation”, “editing”, “check”, “review”, and “proofread”, but it also includes terms like, “machine translation”, “machine translation output”, and “post-edit”.  The existence of these terms in the standard acknowledge the confusion caused by people who use them interchangeably when they, in fact, carry different distinct meanings with very significant outcomes. Unfortunately, the standard does not go on to explain when it is ok to do which activity in which case.  Here are some big and important unanswered question left by the standard:

  • When is it not ok to use machine translation?
  • When is it not ok to use only one translator, and have no editing, checking, reviewing proofreading activity afterwards?
  • When is it ok to not use a professional translator?

It turns out that the standard is not meant to define what to do in every scenario, so there may be many ambiguous situations where an independent decision by a project manager or an LSP policy determine what to do, rather than the standard itself.  If the ISO does not explicitly say that it cannot be done, then the LSP has the freedom to do it. The ISO is not meant to restrict the LSP, just guide it. The value that auditors bring in these situations is that they are trying to catch people looking for loopholes or flagrant abuses of the standard.   

The ISO 17100 is not dependent on the 9001

The ISO 17100 has nothing to do with the ISO 9001.  In fact, an LSP can have the ISO 17100 and not have the ISO 9001 (although, from what I have seen, they are commonly found together).  Conceptually, a key distinction between both standards is that the ISO 17100 does not have certified controls in place to satisfy the client’s needs.  The ISO 17100 does not talk about client needs at all nor how to take them into account when designing and planning a translation project. As a result, it is up to each individual LSP to decide if and how client needs will be accounted for in the translation project.  

If the ISO 17100 does not acknowledge client needs, and the ISO 9001 is not a prerequisite for the ISO 17100 like it used to be when it was the EN 15038, then how do LSPs standardize translation output while taking into account client input? The answer to this question is extremely important since the client’s input is an essential ingredient to the translation process.  To offer a translation service without the input of the client is like:

  • an accountant preparing taxes without their client’s tax information.
  • a doctor diagnosing and treating a patient without any information about the client.
  • a lawyer defending their client without knowing anything about the case.
  • a tailor making a tailored suit without the wearer’s measurements.
  • a realtor showing homes to a client without knowing what the client likes.

In every case, the professional is performing their service while making assumptions about the client.  Why assume when you don’t have to? Because it’s much easier to “just do the job” than communicate and collaborate.

Transparency is not defined in the 17100

The ISO 17100 considers communication between the LSP and the client, but the scope is exclusive to the term “client-TSP (LSP) agreement”.  This agreement “may” call for conformity to the standard and include:

  • considerations related to national legislation
  • commercial terms
  • project specifications

In the standard, “may” is defined as “used to indicate a course of action permissible within the limits of the document” – but not a requirement to include. In practice, an LSP can be as specific or as vague as they choose.  Moreover, since most clients are not experts in the translation industry, they are not likely to know what information is not specific enough in their agreement. Here are some examples of critical ambiguities that an LSP can create:

  • The qualifications of a translator can be changed if the standard qualifications cannot be met
  • A translator can use machine translation
  • “translation” and “machine translation” can be interchanged
  • “editing”, “reviewing” and “proofreading” can be interchanged

A high degree of ambiguity can cause a large number of combinations of workflows, which could explain the high variation in application of the ISO17100 and in translation output.  

Summary

While there is little room for misinterpretation of the ISO 17100 standard, there is a lot of ambiguity in the application of it.  It mentions a lot of important and specific things that an LSP “may” or “shall” do, but very little about what it cannot or should not do.  Furthermore, since the ISO 17100 does not include client needs within its scope, each individual LSP is left to decide if and how to account for client needs when performing its services.  Typically, clients treat translations as a transactional relationship, asking an LSP to “just do the job”. The lack of information provided in this approach, coupled with the LSPs lack of guidance on how to use this information if it had it, causes a general lack of expectations or standards in the quality of the deliverable.  To make matters worse, clients do not typically know both the source and target language, so determining if the translation will meet their needs is not usually known until it’s too late and any potential damage has already been done.  

Our approach to addressing the issues uncovered here is to strive for real collaborative partnerships with our clients while raising awareness with clients about what is possible, what other LSPs may promise, and what to expect from us.  

If you’d like to learn more about how BURG Translations helps you ensure high-quality translations, contact us today.

Application of the principles of the ISO 9001 quality management system to a translation company

Application of the principles of the ISO 9001 quality management system to a translation company

19% of LSPs are certified in the ISO 9001.  As a professional services industry that is driven by process and can create substantial business risk for its clients, this statistic should be concerning to its clients.  Anecdotally, the most common reason I’ve heard for language service providers (LSPs) to forgo the certification is the lack of return on investment (ROI). While it might be difficult to quantify some sources of ROI, the access it provides to clients who are also certified in the ISO 9001 could be reason enough.  This article will focus on the application of the principles of the ISO 9001:2015 quality management system to BURG Translations. Below are the principles: Read more

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A Language Guide for Clients

Technically, there are over 4,000 languages spoken in the world.  We have found that it can be very helpful for clients to know just a few basics about some languages to make translation projects more understandable.  Translation requests are mostly broken down into three kind:  Read more