American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Why Standards

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Why Standards

Why Do We Need Translation Standards?

Despite years of discussion about quality in language translation, it was only recently that an actual industry standard for translation was finalized. ASTM F 2575-06, entitled “Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation,” was published in June of 2006. Although many translation companies have welcomed this effort to standardize quality, individual freelancers continue to be concerned that newly introduced standards may constitute a threat.

Dear Business Smarts:

I read about the new translation standards in The ATA Chronicle and elsewhere, but am confused about the meaning of these documents for my business as a freelancer. I heard that one of the objectives was to push small freelance contractors out of the market and to make it harder for them to get work from direct clients. But at a conference session I attended, I heard that nothing would change for freelancers and that I was “probably already doing” what the standard discussed. Why, then, did we need a standard? Many thanks for any additional information you can provide.
— Standard Question

Dear Standard Question:

Thanks largely to the arrival of the Internet, the global translation market has grown tremendously in the past decade, and large numbers of new providers are pushing into the field. Clients who never before had to deal with foreign languages, including government agencies and small to midsized companies, are suddenly being forced to buy language services. This means that translation terminology must be explained to inexperienced buyers, and the steps involved in producing flawless copy — including selecting a translation service provider, defining project specifications, actual production (terminology management, translation, editing, formatting, proofreading, and quality control), and post project review — must be formally described. This is the purpose of ASTM F 2575-06 (entitled “Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation”).

Translation companies may see the standard as a way to “quantify quality” and thereby set themselves apart from their competitors; the increasing trend toward documentation and continuous improvement processes (CIP) is part of this growing emphasis on quality. Since ASTM F 2575-06 is principally relevant to projects larger than any you are likely to handle as a freelancer, it should not interfere with your relationship with direct clients as long as the quality requirements listed in the standard are met. “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.”1  In a reflection of industry realities, the document also concedes that “[i]n some cases, the project manager and the translator are the same person.”2

In fact, an individual independent translator can perform all the functions of a “translation provider” as defined by the standard. The standard can therefore be viewed less as a limitation and more as a new opportunity for you as an independent translator both to educate and to evaluate your clients. The detailed definitions of translation processes can be useful tools for explaining your work to customers and justifying its cost. The document also benefits you as an individual translator by providing a framework within which you can measure the working methods of your agency clients against an accepted objective yardstick. For example: Do they take the time to provide you with specifications, terminology, and client expectations? Are you given an opportunity to review editing changes, and is your work reviewed at all? Does the client make an effort to listen to your comments? Last, but not least, is the quality of the final product really everyone’s highest priority?


1. ASTM International, F 2575-06 “Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation,” June 2006.
2. Ibid.

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: February 2008, p 30