Volume 4, No. 1 
January 2000




Happy 2000!
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2000
  Translator Profiles
Love, Languages, and Translation
by Peter Griffin
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
When Trust Is Broken
ASTM Standard for Language Translation
by Steve Lank
Translating the Web: Into the Future
by Jan Oldenburg
Science or Translation?
by Maria Karra
  Translators in the Media
Translators and the Media—Part 1
Translators and the Media—Part 2
  Business & Finance
Translating a Brazilian Balance Sheet
by Danilo Nogueira
  Translating Development
Neologisms in International Development
by Alexandra Russell-Bitting
The Arabic Language and Folk Literature
by Srpko Lestaric
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XVIII
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
  Translators’ Tools
WordFisher for MS Word
by Tibor Környei
Translators’ Emporium
Translators’ Events
Letters to the Editor
Call for Papers
Translation Journal
The Profession

ASTM Standard for Language Translation

by Steve Lank

n June 1998, a diverse group of representatives of the U.S. translation industry gathered in Washington, D.C. to initiate a dialogue about setting national translation standards. The meeting, long overdue, was called by David Maxwell, director of the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) in Washington, D.C., and Muriel Jérôme-O'Keeffe, then-president of the American Translators Association (ATA). "Both organizations realized early on how crucial it was to develop such standards to protect and to educate the translation consumer," says Jérôme-O'Keeffe, "and in view of the worldwide movement to establish standards in our industry, exemplified by the German standard DIN 2345 on translation adopted in 1998, the development of a national standard has gained even greater importance."

While setting translation quality standards in the U.S. is certainly the primary goal of the subcommittee, the secondary goal is to promote the “professionalization” of the U.S. translation industry.
It was decided at that first meeting to develop a standard under the auspices of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), a highly respected institution with an established track record in the language industry. Its Guide for Use-Oriented Foreign Language Instruction was approved in March 1995 and the guide being developed by ASTM Subcommittee F15.34 on Language Interpretation is targeted for balloting by the summer of 2000.

Organized in 1898, ASTM is the largest organization in the world devoted to developing and publishing voluntary, full-consensus standards. The organization provides a forum for producers, users, ultimate consumers, and representatives of government and academia who have a general interest in setting standards to meet on common ground and write standards for materials, products, systems, and services. The ASTM full-consensus approach (based on its requirement of balanced representation), strict balloting and due process procedures contribute to the quality of their standards. The ASTM philosophy is that when all those who are most affected by a standard participate in its development, it is more credible and acceptance is virtually guaranteed.

ASTM Subcommittee F15.48 on Language Translation was officially established in September 1998 and has been meeting at least quarterly since that time. The subcommittee boasts a diverse membership, with representatives from translation companies, the freelance translation industry, government agencies, professional associations, academia and private industry (consumers of translation services, called "translation requesters" in the guide). The goal of the subcommittee is to produce a Consumer-Oriented Guide to Language Translation for the US market that will take the guesswork out of procuring quality translation services. Although the group expects its work to have broad applications and will strive to harmonize its standard with others around the world, it is also realistic about its goals. "We are not trying to impose a worldwide standard based on our personal interpretations of what represents quality in translation," says Dr. Alan Melby, professor of linguistics at Brigham Young University and subcommittee member. "Rather, it is our intention to develop a guide that will help give translation requesters a reasonable assurance they are receiving quality translation work, regardless of their proficiency in the target language."

To that end, the work of the subcommittee initially focused on reviewing standards from other countries to see what could be learned from previous efforts, so as not to re-invent the wheel. "This being the first attempt at establishing a quality guide for translation within the United States, it was important for us to look to our colleagues overseas to see what they were doing," says Julie Johnson, subcommittee member and assistant professor of translation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "In our search for standards around the world, we were surprised to find that there are very few, yet most people and countries realize the need to ensure quality as it pertains to translation."

Since that initial research, the subcommittee has defined the scope of the guideline, which is to identify factors relevant to the quality of language translation services for each stage of a translation project. The guide is designed to provide a framework within which the participants in a translation services agreement can define the specifications necessary to arrive at a product of desired quality. Based on this scope, the committee has defined three basic components of translation services: Project specifications, Translation Process, and Quality Control.

That was the easy part. From there, the meetings have been filled with spirited debate as the subcommittee further defines and refines the document. Opinions are varied and all concerns, objections and suggestions for improvement must be heard and considered before anything can be committed to paper or, in this case, electronic media. The value of this consensus approach is that, if the cross-section of participants is broad enough, the resulting document will be one that is unlikely to face significant objection when it is presented to other interested parties that may not have been able to participate. This is why it is so important that those in need of translation services participate in this process. "We can't very well develop a quality guide without input from a significant range of requesters," says Rosalie Pasquel Wells, a freelance translator and subcommittee member. "The expectations of the translation requester must be clearly understood and articulated if the guide is to be beneficial and effective. For this reason, we are seeking additional members from private industry, the greatest stakeholders, to join the ASTM quality effort," she adds.

The subcommittee also understands that not all those who are interested in participating in the process are able to attend the quarterly meetings. So in an effort to collect valuable feedback from both requesters and providers of translation services, the subcommittee has so far arranged two forums outside of regular meetings. The first forum was held on September 21, in conjunction with the Localisation Industry Standards Association (LISA) Conference in Monterey, CA. The purpose of this forum was to collect as much feedback as possible on the subcommittee's work to date from translation requesters. With so many representatives of the software localization industry converging in one place at one time, it was a perfect opportunity to do just that. One important result of that meeting was that the guide's focus was redirected to define quality translation services as those that adhere to project specifications that are mutually agreed upon by the requester and the service provider, rather than one based on more subjective, less quantifiable criteria.

The second forum, held November 3 in St. Louis, MO in conjunction with the ATA's annual conference, was aimed at providers of translation services, specifically freelance translators. The reasoning behind this forum was that most freelancers do not have the sponsorship to travel from meeting to meeting and thus had not been in the position to have their voices heard. This forum was split into two days, one all-day session, followed by an hour-long recap the following day. These meetings helped to get the word out to the freelance community that this effort is underway, that it is meant to be inclusive rather than exclusive and that their input is not only desirable, but also required.

Finally, in an effort to encourage as much participation in the process as possible, the subcommittee has made it possible for its members to participate remotely by taking advantage of the ASTM's online Standards Development Forum. This makes participation much more convenient, as members do not miss out on the process simply because they are unable to attend meetings.

While setting translation quality standards in the U.S. is certainly the primary goal of the subcommittee, the secondary goal is to promote the "professionalization" of the U.S. translation industry, which is burgeoning in today's global environment. The fact that the industry is taking a look at itself in an effort to improve the service it provides to its clients can only increase credibility with the public at large. Jon Strolle, associate provost of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and chair of the ASTM subcommittee on Language Interpretation, stresses the importance of the ASTM process for the language service professions. "A guide for translators will be the third major building-block in developing recognized measures for language services in the United States," he says. "The communication explosion of the '90s has at last raised the profile of languages other than English sufficiently in this country to make thoughtful and consensus-built guidelines an ordinary requirement for business and education."

Once quality guidelines are established, requesters of translation services will be in a position to evaluate translation providers' claims with objective service performance criteria. "The ultimate goal in developing these translation guidelines is not to restrict trade in any way, nor to control the language industry, but to offer a label of quality in the same way other industries, through their trade associations, have taken the necessary steps to make basic recommendations to protect the users of their products," says Jérôme-O'Keeffe. "Those guidelines are long overdue, and we are delighted to see so many parties contributing to the project. Translation is now totally integrated into the development of product cycles and it should undergo the same quality processes. This is definitely a sign that the language industry is coming into its own!"

The subcommittee is aiming to have its guide ready for ASTM balloting by spring 2000.

Our next quarterly meeting will be held in Washington DC on March 6, 2000 at NFLC headquarters with another requester forum being held on March 8, 2000 in conjunction with the LISA conference.

For additional information on the work of the subcommittee, please contact Steve Lank, ASTM Subcommittee F15.48 chair at slank@omegaibc.com or (831) 655-7500. For additional information on ASTM or to register for upcoming meetings, please contact Robyn Zelno at ASTM via email at rzelno@astm.org or via phone at (610) 832-9217.