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The EN-15038 European Quality Standard for Translation Services: What’s Behind It?

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All of us who are involved in the translation and localization world know perfectly well that we are in a deregulated industry, in which we institute our own standards, if they are not already imposed for us by our direct or end customers. We also know that every business has its own procedures, sometimes similar, and on other occasions absolutely the opposite. But all these procedures seek the same purpose: to achieve the translation or localization of a product with the highest possible quality

Juan José Arevalillo Doval If we examine the word quality, its meaning in the translation world has many possibilities, although they agree on what is the most important. For as many customers, businesses or translators as there may be, quality can be summed up in two words: customer satisfaction. In order to deliver this, though, we come up against a very subjective concept that can be measured by many standards.

Two types of applications of quality are important for this article: that which is applied to the translation itself and that which is applied to the procedures that surround it. In the last issue of the Globalization Insider, Alan K. Melby, in his article entitled Quality from the Ground Up, made considerable reference to the evaluative methods, such as the LISA QA Model and SAE J2450. He also mentioned the contribution made by the ASTM Standard, which puts forward a wider view of translation procedures. This standard not only refers to translation, or to the review and scoring of it, but also to the series of stages after a translation is received, up to the point of its delivery to the end customer.

Along these lines, the future European Quality Standard for Translation Services (CEN/BTTF 138), backed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), was also mentioned. The aim of this article is to present this future standard to the translation and localization world, along with its history and development. Many have heard about it, but they still do not understand its real meaning and purpose. In fact, it is only necessary to look at the translation forums in which it has been discussed to realize the confusion that exists surrounding this new standard…

The European Quality Standard for Translation Services will set out the process and the requirements that form the principal basis for the provision of high quality professional translation services. It will not only take into account the translation process itself, but also all of the other steps that are involved in the supply of the service in question. One of the key aspects is quality assurance and how to ensure that its norms are followed.

All of us know the importance that quality has taken on from the end of the 1980s, especially within the industrial sector. This has manifested itself in the proliferation of differing quality standards in varying fields under the ISO Standards umbrella, which seeks objective measurement criteria in order to guarantee product quality. These standards can be applied to several aspects: from the manufacture of screws or industrial parts to design processes. Translation should not be treated in a lesser fashion, as its processes could also be covered by an ISO standard.

In the case of the European Quality Standard for Translation Services, there is a fundamental difference: it is a standard that is exclusive to translation, i.e., it cannot be applied to any other field of activity. Moreover, it has been devised from within the world of translation by all of the different players: translators, translation companies, translation industry associations, universities, customers and standardization bodies; hence, its special characteristics and specialization. An ISO standard has certain general directives that each industry molds to its own needs. However, the European Quality Standard for Translation Services has specific directives that must be followed by those who are certified under this standard.

Standardization Bodies

A few words are necessary about the way in which standardization bodies work, since their teamwork has given rise to our standard.

The majority of European countries have their own standardization bodies. We are all familiar with the following initials: DIN, AENOR, AFNOR, BSI, UNI, ÖN, etc. All of these bodies answer to standardization associations or institutes in the various European countries. Together, all of them make up the European Committee for Standardization (CEN).

The principal goals of these standardization bodies include the following:

  • standardization development;
  • the promotion and development of the various certification methods for products, services, people and systems;
  • cooperation with public authorities for the wider introduction of standardization and quality activities; and
  • promotional activities related to standardization and quality that contribute to their awareness, use and development in society.

Likewise, it is very important to take into account the requirements for a standard to be developed:

  • it must be voluntary,
  • it must be prepared by consensus,
  • it must be the result of experience,
  • it must be approved by a recognized body
  • it must be public.

Present State of Standards

Once we have defined the necessary requirements for a quality standard to be defined, we must be aware of what standards are currently applicable to the translation process. With this background, the European Quality Standard for Translation Services can be explained. It is very important to highlight the fact that all other European standards applicable to translation will disappear when the new standard is put into effect.

At the present time, the following standards apply to translation in Europe:

  • The Italian UNI 10574 Standard defines service requirements and the activities to be performed by companies that offer translation and interpreting.
  • The Austrian Önorm D 1200 Standard (this link downloads a PDF file) covers translation and interpreting services and the requirements for offering the services, as well as for the services themselves.
  • The Austrian Önorm D 1201 Standard (this link downloads a PDF file) covers translation and interpreting services in relationship to the contracts that covers these services.
  • The German DIN 2345 Standard covers translation services, the contracts for supplying the services and the working procedures to be used. It is probably the most complete of all of the existing standards, but certification is not required.
  • The Dutch Taalmerk Standard covers translation services in general.
  • The international ISO 12616 Standard governs terminography that applies to translation. Its purpose is to gather and register terminology data to facilitate translation tasks.
As can be seen, these standards make reference to the translation process in general, and not to the product produced by the process, i.e., the translation itself, as in the case of the LISA QA Model or SAE J2450.

The EN-15038 European Quality Standard for Translation Services

Now that the reader is aware of the existing standards in Europe, it is time to introduce EN-15038. Actually, its precise name should be prEN-15038, as it is still in the draft stage. Approval is expected during this year.

Work began on the standard in 2000, when the CEN set up the BTTF 138 Taskforce, which was responsible for preparing the first draft. Prior to all of this, the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies (EUATC) had its own internal quality standard, which was the seed for EN-15038. In fact, the members of the EUATC were using the procedures described in this standard and considered that it was the right time to give this standard to a new body that would be applicable to translation companies. After the initial meeting in Brussels with the CEN, it was agreed with the other delegations from the national standardization bodies to also include freelance translators, and to cover translation services in general and translation service providers in particular. In this way, the entire industry would be represented.

After this, an international committee was set up and chaired by Miguel Núñez, at that time the chairman of the EUATC. It met periodically to shape the creation of the standard. The standardization bodies with their national committees (at the present time the CEN is made up of 28 members) were represented at the international committee meetings by means of a delegation of three people: the person in charge of the national committee and two delegates. There were also observers from Europe (such as the EUATC), the United States (the ATA and ASTM) and Canada who attended the meetings, so there were many participants in the process.

In turn, the national committees were, and continue to be, made up of translation companies (which may or may not belong to business associations), freelance translators, associations of translators and translation companies, universities, government agencies, companies involved in translation software applications (e.g., translation memories) and consumer associations, all of which remain under the umbrella of the corresponding national standardization body. However, the makeup of each group varied to a certain degree in accordance with the national interests of each group, as to whether they participated in these committees or not. Finally, CEN members (by a majority vote) decided that the International Secretariat for the standard would come from AENOR, the Spanish standardization body, of which ACT (Agrupación de Centros Especializados en Traducción / Spanish Association of Translation Companies) is a corporate member.

Each clause within the standard was voluntarily assigned to one of the national committees. After being created, each clause was submitted to debate by the national committees and subsequently to the other committees at their international meetings. The result, after very intense debates, was a draft that was submitted for public review, which ended last February. Comments and possible amendments will be dealt with at the last meeting of the committee at the end of May in Copenhagen. If all goes well, the standard will be approved and published by the beginning of 2006, when certification will then become possible. As mentioned previously, the present translation quality standards, which have been used as a reference for the new standard, will become obsolete when the latter is published.

EN-15038 currently includes the following sections:



  • Scope: the reasons for the standard to be created.
  • Terminology: definition of the terms used in the standard (the possibility of creating an annex with the terms used in translation in general is being considered, independent of the standard).
  • Basic requirements: infrastructure (human and technical resources), quality management (of the service, not the translation itself) and project management.
  • Relationship between the customer and the translation service provider: quotations, contracts, rights and obligations, viability studies, etc.
  • Translation Service Procedures: administrative, technical and linguistic work; the so-called translation process; review, revision, etc.
  • Added Value Services: localization, DTP, translation memory management, glossary compilation, etc. In general, any service that can be offered in addition to the translation itself.
  • Annexes: The purpose of these documents is informational in nature, not normative. They contain suggestions for different checklists, tasks or procedures, which are recommended to be put into practice in order to comply with the standard.
Running throughout the entire context of the standard, there is a basic principle that consists of checks and corrections of a translation being made by a third party, to serve as a mechanism to provide increased quality of the translated text through increased objectivity. This point was one of the most intensely debated. Within the majority of the committees, it is now considered to be one of the principal successes of the standard, along with recognizing the work done by reviewers and revisers. It is very important to stress that this review/revise process and that of translation are indivisible, even though they are carried out in different phases (they can also be carried out in parallel). The removal of the review process, or the reduction of it in any way, can have a negative impact on the quality of the translation or of the end product.

The European Quality Standard for Translation Services and Localization

As we all know very well in the localization industry, translation forms an integral part of the process, but it is not the only component. However, this is not so clear for those who are on the outside. Even the concept of software localization causes confusion due to a lack of knowledge of the processes involved: planning, engineering, translation, checking, trials, DTP, editing, etc.

This issue manifested itself in the debates, during which the Spanish committee especially defended the inclusion of the terms localization and locale, as localization activities represent a very significant amount in worldwide billings for translation services. However, clearly, the standard only refers to translation. Even though many of the processes are equally shared between translation and localization, localization includes aspects that are not necessarily present in translation. Therefore, localization is defined to be a value-added service within the standard. Globalization and internationalization, together with DTP, translation memory management, image processing and other activities that are typical of the localization process are also considered to be value-added services.

In addition, there are two definitions of localization included in the standard: one general and the other referring specifically to software localization. The latter is based on the LISA definitions:

… transfer of a concept in the source language, which belongs to a source-language convention, into the equivalent or an appropriate target-language convention. Software localization involves taking a product and making it linguistically, culturally and technically appropriate to the target locale (country/region and language) where it will be used and sold.

On the other hand, the standard includes implicit and explicit references to project management, the backbone of any localization project, and therefore of translation.

Finally, as has already been stated above, checking and correction are one of the cornerstones of this standard. It is precisely at this stage of the translation where the LISA QA Model and SAE J2450 evaluation standards (or any others that could be used by a translation company or a translator, either by choice or through requirements from external third-parties) are applicable,. The difference between the quality of the processes (the general standard) and the quality of the translation in and of itself (the evaluative standard) must be taken into account. Therein lays the importance of this standard, since it involves the standardization of a process that many carry out, but others do not. Based on this choice, the final quality of a translation or localized product may be affected. There is no doubt that if the general process is well-defined and integrated, and its requirements are met, the quality of the end product is almost guaranteed. If suitable staff are contracted; if the outsourcing processes between the customer, the translation company and the translator are appropriate; if the translation process is correct; if the review and revising process is well thought out and applied; is there any doubt that the end product, the translation in this case, will be the desired one?

Finally, which of us has not suffered from terminology changes that are the result of an unclear request from a customer to review, revise or edit a translation? Furthermore, there are cases in which one customer uses a term for an activity that does not coincide with the term used by another customer… and only experience and a knowledge of the customer, accumulated over time, gives us the clue as to what is required. Hence, the standard can solve this problem, since it clearly defines revise as a bilingual review and review as a monolingual review.


It is well known that there a lot of suspicion still exists between translation companies and freelance translators. It is hoped that the publication of the EN-15038 European Quality Standard for Translation Services
can form a bridge towards fostering more professional collaboration for those companies which achieve certification. The establishment of working procedures, which lead to satisfying the standard, could help to highlight the professional nature of a translation and localization service vendor that (1) provides added value to the translations received from translators before delivery to the end customer, and (2) that establishes a reliable commercial relationship with its freelancers. This is in contrast to the typical intermediary vendor that limits itself to simply passing the translation directly onto the end customer, without adding any value. For this reason (the ATA and the EUATC both agree on this), an attempt is being made to distinguish between the translation company/business that provides added value, and the translation agency that simply functions as an intermediary.

Likewise, this standard will provide a central reference point for the translation industry, so devoid of regulation and yet so much in need of it. Contacts have been made between the ISO and the European Standard Committee so that EN-15038 could be used as a basis for a hypothetical ISO Translation Standard. This, undoubtedly, would be very important news for everyone. The standard could even be used by academics to update their translation and localization studies programs.

We hope that, in the future, the EN-15038 European Quality Standard for Translation Services will help all of us be able to speak the same language.


Juan José Arevalillo is Managing Director of Hermes Traducciones y Servicios Lingüísticos S.L., a translation and localization company that he founded in 1991 in Madrid. As the current Chair for ACT (Agrupación de Centros Especializados en Traducción / Spanish Association of Translation Companies), he heads the Spanish Committee working on EN-15038. He also lectures on Translation at Alfonso X el Sabio University in Madrid. Arevalillo can be reached at


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
April 2005

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider:, LISA:
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2005

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