Contact our team

Translation Quality Standards – What Do They Mean?

August 11, 2016

quality-focus (1)According to Business Dictionary, quality can be defined as “the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.” In the case of translation, quality could be defined as the success of the translation in accurately capturing and conveying the information and the intent of the source document. Translation quality becomes mission-critical in domains such as IP, medical, legal, accounting, and technical documentation, where poor-quality translations could cause loss of business value and, in some cases, even loss of life.

Two Main Types of Translation Quality Standards

It is not surprising, therefore, that international/national, general/industry-specific standards have been formulated, all with the goal of helping language service providers (LSPs) provide their customers with quality deliverables. All of these standards fall into two broad categories:

  • Process-oriented: These standards focus on establishing and maintaining a process of translation, review and approval that, when followed diligently by qualified professionals, will consistently result in translations that meet customer expectations.
  • Metrics-oriented: These standards focus on establishing actual quality metrics against which a translation can be measured and rated as high- or low-quality.

Two Examples of Process-Oriented Translation Quality Standards

Some LSPs, including Morningside Translations, have adopted ISO 9001, the world’s most widely recognized quality management standard. ISO 9001 outlines ways to achieve consistent performance and service at all levels. ISO 9001 certification means a quality system that provides the framework for better customer satisfaction, staff motivation and continuous improvement.

In 2006, EN 15038 was published by CEN, the European Committee for Standardization, as a quality standard specifically for the translation industry. The standard defines the requirements of the LSP in regards to personnel and technical resources, quality control, project management, client contract parameters, and management methods. [1] The standard was adopted by a number of European countries and has formed the basis of other national standards, such as Canada’s CAN/CGSB-131.10 Translation Services standard that was established in 2008.

In 2015, EN 15038 was replaced by ISO 17100:2015. One of the main aspects covered by the new standard is the reorganization of tasks into three macro-processes: pre-production, production and post-production, and also the addition of the project manager’s profile and role as one of the key participants in translation project workflow. [4]

Two Examples of Metrics-Oriented Translation Quality Standards

The LISA Scorecard is a quality assurance model designed to promote the best translation and localization methods for the software and hardware industries. While the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) is no longer active, their standardization methods are still widely used as the benchmark for quality translations. [1] This model grades translations based on a scoring system that measures the severity of issues as critical, major or minor and provides a point value for each offense. The LISA norm for a passing translation grade is 99 percent. [2]

Another example is the ATA Metric, which was developed by the American Translators Association to be used as an evaluation tool to test the quality of a translated text. A “strong” or “standard” score on the text correlates with an IRL Professional Performance Level 4 or 5, respectively. [1]

Vertical-Specific Translation Quality Standards: A Medical Example

Some verticals have specific translation quality needs that cannot be met by more generalized quality standards. A good example is ISO 13485:2016, which specifies requirements for a quality management system where an organization needs to demonstrate its ability to provide medical devices and related services that consistently meet customer and applicable regulatory requirements. ISO 13485:2016 can also be used by suppliers or external parties that provide product or services to such organizations.

LSPs like Morningside Translations that are certified to ISO 13485 collaborate with medical device companies to determine risk management for all of its medical device translations. With the LSP implementing processes that reduce the potential for product risks, the medical device company reduces its exposure to compliance and legal issues, not to mention risk to customers. [2]

At the end of the day, it’s all about the people and the process

Translation quality standards play an important role but they are no substitute for providing on-going training and feedback to translators, as well as arming translators and editors with the necessary resources and information on the subject matter, context in which the translation will be used, etc. Translation teams who are equipped with glossaries, style guides, support materials, and contextual information can produce a translation of much higher quality than those who are just handed a text with no background. In these cases, the focus shifts from quality control (checking for mistakes) to quality improvement (producing the best possible translation based on the client’s needs). [3]


[1] Lyle Ball, Five Pillars of Success for IP Translations, IPWatchdog, October 2012
[2] Sajan, Ensuring translation quality: Industry standards, February 2012
[3] Nataly Kelly, Ten Common Myths About Translation Quality, Huffington Post, July 2013
[4] The ISO-17100 published, European Union of Associations of Translation Companies