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Why certifications are so important in the translation industry


Certifications are one of the most important criteria when assessing the credentials of a translation service provider. MEINRAD was audited by TAW Cert in October 2019, with the aim not just of reviewing our existing certifications but also of obtaining a new certification. But what does certification involve, and why is it so important? 

The devil is in the detail

“We work in accordance with ISO standards” is a phrase you’ll often see when looking for translation service providers, but don’t be fooled: it doesn’t mean the same as “ISO certified”. As so often, the devil is in the detail – and this detail can sometimes make a big difference. 

The two main certifications in the translation industry, ISO 17100 and ISO 9001, ensure that the translations produced and the project management offered by an agency meet the highest standards. Agencies that can’t provide evidence of these certifications and merely say they “work in accordance with ISO standards” won’t guarantee the same high-quality service. ISO certified agencies, by contrast, are audited on a regular basis by an independent body that tests and verifies their compliance with all the relevant requirements, so you can rest assured that they adhere to ISO standards at all times.

The main certifications for translation service providers

ISO 17100 for high-quality translation processes

The ISO 17100 standard sets out quality criteria for translators and reviewers. They must have:

  • at least 5 years of professional translation experience, 
  • a degree in translation, 
  • or a degree in another subject and 2 years of professional translation experience 

in order to comply with the standard. 

MEINRAD has been ISO 17100 certified since 2016. But we see its requirements as the bare minimum: beyond the relevant professional experience or academic study, we believe the specialist expertise of our freelance translators is crucial. As experts in translating technical documentation, we prefer to work with freelancers with a background in the respective specialist area. The combination of technical expertise and love of languages helps our translation partners get to the heart of every translation project and allows us to give our clients the specific support they need.

As well as specific expertise, ISO 17100 certification also requires specific project management processes to be implemented. Agencies compliant with this standard will have the necessary technical and human resources to ensure projects are delivered as smoothly as possible and the overall translation process meets the highest standards. 

ISO 9001 for quality management 

ISO 9001 is a hugely important standard across the service sector, as it specifies the quality management system businesses need to have in place. Among other things, an ISO 9001 audit verifies which risk strategies a business has in a worst-case scenario, how supplier performance is measured, and how customer complaints and feedback are handled and used to continuously improve procedures. Conducted every year by an external body, the audit also assesses the internal progress made by the business as a whole. MEINRAD has been an ISO 9001 certified translation service provider since 2008. 

Find out more about ISO 17100 and ISO 9001 certification here.

New: ISO 18587 for full post-editing of machine translations 

Machine translation engines are now widely used in the translation industry, and it’s not hard to see why: machine translation (MT) can help improve productivity in translation, shorten project lead times, and as a result reduce costs. But MT outputs aren’t yet at the same level as translations produced by human translators, which means post-editing (reviewing and correcting suggestions from machine translation engines) is required. 

Because the process of post-editing MT outputs differs from producing conventional translations in a number of key areas, it isn’t appropriate to apply the existing standards for translation projects. For this reason, a new ISO standard has been developed. ISO 18587 defines the requirements for human post-editing of machine translation outputs, including the qualifications of post-editors. Unlike the more general ISO 17100, it applies solely to texts produced using MT engines. For instance, it specifies the aims of post-editing: 

    • to produce clear, easy to understand texts
    • to ensure the content of the source text has been translated correctly
    • to comply with specific client requirements

These are key issues in machine translation, and the challenges are different, so only ISO 18587 certified language service providers can guarantee compliance with these quality standards. 

Breaking new ground with ISO 18587

The ISO 18587 machine translation standard has presented us with a particularly exciting challenge this year. As it’s so new, so far hardly any training has been offered for post-editors – so we decided not only to integrate the standard into the training we give our in-house post-editors, but also to arrange workshops for our freelance post-editors so that they can learn how to apply the standard. Our In-House Linguists Bianca and Martin were quick to recognize the potential, and they put together short training courses in how to post-edit MT outputs correctly. But we’re not just keeping this to ourselves: Bianca and Martin will be giving a presentation on best practices for successful post-editing of machine translation outputs at the tekom annual conference, the largest technical communication event of its kind.


Annual audits

It’s not just a question of getting certification once and then resting on your laurels. Annual audits (in our case conducted by TAW Cert GmbH) demonstrate that we continue to comply with the standards and are always developing and improving how we work. We’ve made sure we’re thoroughly prepared for this year’s audit by conducting our own internal audits beforehand, which has allowed us to identify what’s changed and any areas where we might not be 100% compliant. 

Everyone responsible for the translation process is audited, whether it’s Project Managers, In-House Linguists or our accounting staff. Reports on quality management, reviewers and various other areas have to be produced before the audit begins, and changes and plans for the following year are also taken into consideration by the auditor when verifying that all ISO specifications have been met. Once the audit is complete, the certificate is presented and the auditor advises the agency on what its next steps should be. 

Moving forward

To cement our position as experts in medical translations, our next step is to obtain medical device certification in 2020. ISO 13485 sets out the comprehensive quality management requirements for medical devices, where accuracy and expertise are a top priority. Certification to this standard would therefore demonstrate to clients in the medical sector that we can deliver the high-quality language services they need.

So whether it’s maintaining existing certifications, embracing new developments or strengthening our position in the fields we know best, at MEINRAD one thing’s for certain: we never stand still.