The question of whether ISO certification is worth it for translation professionals will never quite be settled, but the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages.
Of course, day-to-day my experience, and the experience of almost all translators around the world, is very calm and typical. And the controversies are very polite and academic ones, like, for example, the question of ISO certification and its value.
The International Standards Organisation is a group of very nice people who strive to set standards for just about everything. The word standards here referring to minimum requirements. It’s a very useful endeavour because we all need a frame of reference in order to judge things. In other words, how do you know whether the translation work you just received is good or not, especially when you don’t speak one of the languages involved? That’s what standards are there for – but of course, that’s also where the controversy is.
In the final analysis, from the point of view of the translation worker, a good translation is any translation that is accepted and paid for by the client. If they’re happy, I’m happy. And in a very real sense it is the client who determines whether a translation is ‛good’ or not. No matter how many ISO certifications or initials of proofreaders and back-translators you stamp on it, if the client for some reason disagrees with your translation decisions, your translation didn’t cut it.
In that sense, ISO certification doesn’t mean much. It’s not a guarantee of acceptance – and in reality it’s only a guarantee that you have followed a series of ‛best practices.’ You can – and people have – create an awful translation that is nonetheless perfectly conforming to the ISO standard in terms of process.
The Usefulness of ISO Certification
That doesn’t mean that being ISO certified has no value. It has a lot of very powerful aspects, in fact:
- Marketing: By being ISO certified you demonstrate to knowledgeable clients that you’re a professional operating at the highest standards. Even if the client, in practice, determines what quality means it will comfort them to think you’re certified.
- Quality: Conforming to the ISO standard may not be any guarantee of quality, but it can’t hurt – it will raise the general quality of any translation created using it’s framework, and as such is a good thing.
- Insulation: Finally, if you conform to ISO standards and your client is one of those loopy ones that has it’s own odd ideas about what makes a quality translation, your ISO procedures will insulate you from criticism, because you’ll be able to demonstrate that you did the work in the proper way.
ISO certification seems like a bother to translators, especially freelancers who have to put their own resources into acquiring it – but it does have advantages.
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