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What is the European Standard EN 15038 and How does it help translators?

European Standard EN 15038 "Translation Services – Service requirements" has the status of a national standard, either by publication of an identical text or by endorsement, in the following CEN member countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom.

The purpose of the European Standard is to ensure high-quality translation services, fair competition, improved transparency and end user satisfaction. Following its publication, procedures are already being developed for conformity assessment and certification of Translation Service Providers (TSPs) throughout Europe.

Background Information    Terminology    Recommendations    Download   

Background Information

Work on a European standard for translation services began early in 2003 with the submission to CEN (Comité Européen de Normalisation) of a proposal by the EUATC (European Union of Associations of Translation Companies). The national standardisation bodies of the member countries of CEN quickly reached almost unanimous agreement on the need for such a standard. In response to views expressed by translators’ associations in the various countries, the newly established working group soon came to the conclusion that the standard should apply to translation service providers (TSPs) in general, and not only to translation companies.

FIT Europe supported the project right from the outset, encouraging its member associations to take part and join the national committees to ensure that the voice of “field” professionals was heard and heeded.

"Mirror committees" were set up in the individual countries to examine the project text as it developed and to elaborate the national positions. In a succession of alternating national and European meetings a consensus was gradually reached on the approach and wording of the new standard. This is deliberately kept fairly neutral and free from detail to permit flexible application to a broad spectrum of situations, ranging from complex projects in several languages handled by large translation companies with many subcontractors, to single jobs in one language translated by individual freelancers.

In late 2004 the draft standard was published for comment, and following further discussions in 2005 the final version was published on 1 August 2006 as European Standard EN 15038. This supersedes any relevant national standards in the CEN member countries.

EN 15038 is a service standard. It provides a framework that can be used to improve quality control in the translation process, and therefore offers great potential for enhancing the service provided and raising the status of the translation profession as a whole. It also helps make clients aware of what is involved in a translation assignment and what they can and should do to facilitate the translation process in the interests of good results. The official text is published by CEN in English, French and German, but national translations into a growing number of other languages are becoming available.

From a practical point of view, different countries are adopting different approaches to the question of assessing conformity with the requirements of the standard, which is a national matter. Some are offering certification (confirmation of compliance as a result of a third-party audit), while others are giving preference to registration (self-declaration without external scrutiny). In some cases these may even exist in parallel. FIT Europe is not alone in believing that conformity assessment should mean the same thing everywhere, and will continue its efforts to promote European consensus on this issue. (See Terminology)

In addition to being implemented at European level, the new standard - as one of the very few existing standards in this field - will play a major role in the work on a global ISO standard in the years ahead.

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Assessment of conformity with the standard EN 15038: Terminology

Self-declaration

TSPs wishing to comply with the requirements of the standard can if they wish make a unilateral statement (e.g. on their website or letterheads) that they work in accordance with the standard. This is not verified by anyone and has to be taken on trust.

Registration

This is a variant of self-declaration in which the unilateral statement is registered by a central body such as a standards institute or related service company. A fee is charged for this service and may entitle the TSP to use the registration body's signet or logo to draw attention to such registration. Like self-declaration, this does not entitle the TSP to claim that it is certified.

Certification

Here the TSP submits to an audit by a third party in the form of an accredited certifying body, which verifies that the TSP has the relevant procedures in place and that it complies with the requirements of the standard. Certification is given for a limited period, and its continuation or renewal is subject to follow-up audits at specified intervals. As an objective procedure performed by a third party, certification is more expensive. It also involves more preparatory input on the part of the TSP.

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Recommendations on Criteria for Conformity Assessment and Certification under EN 15038

Bearing in mind that translation, by its very nature, is a cross-border activity, FIT-Europe – the coordinating body for translators’ associations across Europe – considers that the Standard’s purpose can best be achieved if the certificates issued by the various certification bodies in Europe are based on harmonised assessment procedures and criteria. We therefore strongly recommend that certification bodies develop compatible procedures for certifying TSPs.

In order to assist such bodies, FIT-Europe set up an ad hoc task force consisting of several individuals who were involved in drafting the standard (John Graham, Germany; Eva Leitner, Austria; Jacqueline Reuss, France) and entrusted them with the task of drawing on their experience to compile recommended assessment criteria. The results of their work are set out in the document below.

We are very grateful to the members of this task force and hope their recommendations will be considered and adopted by:

  1. certification bodies that are developing such procedures for the first time and
  2. certification bodies that are reviewing existing procedures in the light of experience.

Download Recommendations on Criteria for Conformity Assessment and Certification under EN 15038

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About the International Federation of Translators

The International Federation of Translators FIT (Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs) is the largest international grouping of associations of translators, interpreters and terminologists in the world. Over 120 professional associations and educational institutions from 60 countries are FIT members. As an umbrella organization it therefore represents the interests of more than 80,000 translators, interpreters and terminologists around the world.

FIT was founded in Paris in 1953, and maintains regional centres in Europe, Latin America and North America.

Further information can be found at the FIT website.