Some Comments on EN 15038: 2006 Translation Service – Service Requirement

The EN 15038: 2006 Translation Services – Service Requirements standard, approved and enacted by the EC on August 1, 2006, superseded some 30 regional standards previously operated by member countries of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). While some of the now obsolete standards were used as the basis for drafting EN 15038, many professionals agree that the new standard is inferior to its predecessors.

In our view, there are clearly some good aspects to each of the documents. Yet just as clearly, it is impossible or very difficult to enforce a whole range of the provisions of EN 15038 in respect of certain translation service providers (TSP), such as freelancers. Many stages of the translation process, while meticulously described and regulated by EN 15038 (documenting incoming orders, preliminary evaluation of the original etc.), are simply omitted as unnecessary by translators working from home.

The time is now ripe, however, for certification of translation work, as the market for such services is estimated by some to be worth 5-6 billion Euros in Europe alone. This is why European translation companies have quickly become EN 15038 certified to prove the high quality of their services. Yet the method of quality assurance provided for by EN 15038 (and, in more detail, by ISO 9001) is described merely as a procedure for managing the quality of the company’s business processes. In other words, it is not so much about the quality of the translation itself, as the quality of management.

To be fair, EN 15038 does attempt to define translation service quality and describes a whole set of actions aimed at achieving it.

The European standard urges providers to use common terminology, and accordingly lists a number of requirements to ensure that TSPs efficiently address such issues as human resources, quality management system and project management. It also lists the rules governing the relationship between a TSP and its client. The authors of the standard assume that if a TSP follows all the management procedures, abides by the rules of documentation and implements a QC system, these things taken together will ensure a high-quality translation product.

Additionally, certain provisions of EN 15038 help to distinguish between TSPs that really create added value and those that merely act as intermediaries. This is a very important point, because these days we are seeing an increasing number of TSPs who are nothing more than coordinators or distributors, accepting translation orders from clients and passing them on to translators. Such TSPs simply make use of the internet and the telephone for communication, and assume no responsibility at all for the quality of the final product, hence the dumping prices they offer for translation services. An irresponsible TSP is only interested in pocketing the difference between what the client pays it and what it pays to the translator.

Describing the translation process, EN 15038 lists certain technical aspects of translation that can help to guarantee the quality of the end product, such as technical resources, pre-translation processing, source text analysis etc. The standard also explicitly identifies the various areas of professional competence of a translator that undoubtedly have an impact on quality. These include translation and linguistic competence, research ability (the ability of a translator to assimilate new knowledge required to correctly understand the subject of the text), and cultural and technical competence.

In our view, these technical aspects and professional competences are indeed necessary, though not sufficient, criteria for assessing translation quality. Clearly, one of the main aims of the new ISO standard should be to devise additional quality markers.

It is undoubtedly correct that EN 15038 stresses the importance of quality assurance and quality control in every stage of the production process. Of particularly interest here is its description of methods of managing a translation project, such as monitoring and supervision of the process of preparing for a translation, selection of translators for a project, selection of checkers, revisers and reviewers; selection of other professionals to perform additional services for the project; creation of instructions for all persons involved in the translation project; monitoring and supervision of deadlines. A serious TSP must regularly analyze its achievements (or failures) in the area of quality assurance.

It is also true that a TSP must ensure that any necessary technical resources are available: translation tools, communication equipment, access to various information sources etc. It is impossible to create a quality product without meeting these conditions.

And finally, it is undoubtedly correct to identify and describe the various stages of translation work: translation proper, checking for omissions, revision, proofreading, and final verification. All these stages are essential, yet some of them are often skipped by TSPs because of insufficient human and financial resources, a shortage of time, or an irresponsible attitude, as outlined above.

Importantly, as a means of quality assurance, EN 15038 calls for regular audits of TSPs by certification agencies with the authority to cancel a TSP’s certification in the event of serious violations of the standard.

It is worth pointing out that many translation companies believe it is essential to obtain ISO 9001 (quality management standard) certification. But as the standard does not analyze the translation aspects of the process as such, many TSPs do not regard it as an essential element of quality assurance. One should also mention that the mere fact that a translation company is EN 15038 or ISO 9001 certified does not in any way guarantee that it is able to deliver a high-quality product. Instead, it indicates a desire to keep abreast of trends on the translation market and to boast of such qualifications. For this reason, one of the objectives of drafting and - most importantly - enacting a new ISO in Russia specifically must be to ensure that only TSPs certified to these standards can operate on the translation market. This will automatically filter out a huge number of intermediaries offering a poor-quality product at dumping prices.



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