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By: Victor On: July 6, 2017 In: Accreditation Comments: 0
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I blame Gene Roddenberry.

If any single person was responsible for popularizing the notion of a computerized universal translator, it was he. The immensely popular Star Trek franchise insinuated that concept into our modern consciousness, and, as a result, many people now believe the myth that perfect translations are available by simply pushing a button on a gizmo.

The truth, of course, is a bit more complicated than that. Interpreter companies and translation companies bring a whole range of methods to bear to achieve accurate and reliable results. Computers and machines are merely tools in that process.

For machine-readable text, computers can achieve as much as 60% accuracy for many documents. For real accuracy, human translators are required. This is even more apparent in the complex realm of interpreting, which layers voice recognition on top of other computerized tools. But still, people cling to the notion that we have taught computers to convert text from one language to another — no humans (or Vulcans) necessary.

Education of the general public regarding the errors inherent in this myth of “free and competent translation and interpreting” is best served by the creation of professional industry standards. That brings me to the focus of this month’s post: the evolution of the stated purpose for creating a standard written by the ASTM subcommittee F-43 for Language Service Companies.

Original Text, Feb 14, 2013

The first draft of the standard contained a very simple, very straightforward Scope:

SCOPE: This practice standard establishes minimum operation and development requirements for a Language Service Company (LSC) to satisfactorily meet the needs of its clients.

While there is value in simplicity, it quickly became apparent that the standard would benefit from a broader statement that laid out the approach to be taken. With that in mind, the drafting committee set out to revise the Scope to incorporate specific factors that would be considered.

Revision, Mar 13, 2013

As might be anticipated, the pendulum in the revision swung to the opposite extreme:

SCOPE: This Standard specifies the basic policies, processes, procedures, and resources needed by a Language Services Company (LSC) to provide the quality services required by its clients. These needs may or may not be diverse for a single client but across all clients they will certainly be diverse in combinations of subject matter, languages involved, and types of language product. The complexity places an extraordinary burden on maintaining adequate resources, both in the infrastructure of the LSC and production resources in-house and out-of-house. Burgeoning demands of the global marketplace as well as domestic needs of Government, immigrant population, and foreign visitors requires competent optimized management of these resources (and recognition of the LSC’s limitations) for ensuring reliable high level performance. By adhering to the specifications of the Standard, the LSC should be consistently meeting or exceeding client expectations, and that level of performance will bring substantial benefit to the clientele as well as greater professional recognition to those companies that are certified to this Standard.

This practice standard establishes minimum infrastructure, operations and development requirements for a Language Service Company (LSC) to meet the diverse and evolving needs of its clients as expressed in the job specifications for assignments. The Standard describes the policies, processes, procedures and resources needed to reliably and consistently fulfill client orders.

The first paragraph of this version begins by listing the factors to be addressed in the standard that follows. This list will go on to appear in nearly every subsequent iteration — in one form or another — and with good reason: it is a clear, succinct and useful roadmap of the standard.

The text that follows, however, is somewhat less clear. Certainly it contains interesting information, but was this the appropriate time and place to broach these subjects? Ultimately, it was decided that much of this information could be elided. In some cases, text was shifted to another section of the standard where it made more contextual sense; in other cases it was deemed to be extraneous, and thus deleted entirely.

The second paragraph follows a similar trajectory. Its first sentence goes on to feature prominently in the Scope in most subsequent drafts, while the latter half adds little and is duly discarded in later iterations.

Revision, Mar 19, 2015

After more than two years of rewrites (encompassing many phone calls, meetings, drafting sessions and revisions), the drafting committee came up with the following revision of the scope and introduced – wait for it – an introduction. This arrangement will persist in all future versions.

INTRODUCTION: This Standard specifies the basic policies, processes, procedures, and resources needed by a Language Service Company (LSC) to provide the quality services required by its clients. This standard is meant to be a general introduction to the requirements of an LSC, but we leave it for future exposition as to the specific standards for specified functions including, but not limited to, translation, interpreting, language training and language testing.

This standard represents a minimum requirement for all language service companies, but is meant to be supplemented by specific standards pertinent to specific service areas, such as the services enumerated above. By adhering to the requirements of the Standard, an LSC will consistently meet or exceed client expectations, and that level of performance will bring substantial benefit to the client as well as greater professional recognition to those companies that are certified to this Standard.

SCOPE: This Practice Standard establishes minimum infrastructure, operations, and development requirements for a Language Service Company (LSC) to meet the diverse and evolving needs of its clients as expressed in the job specifications for assignments, as outlined in a Job Needs Analysis.

The Introduction as written here is essentially in its final form, and takes over the “roadmap” function from earlier revisions. It clearly sets the expectations for the rest of the standard, and states the goals that the standard sets out to achieve.

It also introduces a conceptual approach which is at the heart of the document:

The Foundation Document

I’m referring here to the concept of “elasticity.” In producing a standard for all Language Service Companies (e.g. language training, localization, translation, interpreting, subtitling, voice overs, transcriptions, and testing), the drafting committee came to realize that no single proposal would capture the unique requirements of each service area.

In particular, we recognized that if the drafting committee were to reach the finish line, we would have to adopt an incremental approach that would limit disagreements and allow passage through a consensus process. This meant that we aimed for a standard with agreed-upon characteristics for good corporate practices which would ensure that clients were getting some assurance of a quality product for their money. The committee also added specific requirements for language services that were missing from other standards, so that this standard was uniquely focused on linguistic services.

While this is not the place to delve into specific requirements, the concept of a “Foundation Document” was very much in our minds during the writing of the Introduction and Scope. Taken together, the language services-specific requirements made explicit the intent to build a superstructure that could accommodate each individual language service once the Foundation Document was adopted.

Revision, May 15, 2017

Another two years went by, and we arrived at the current version of the Introduction and Scope. The current draft, as of this writing, has gone to ballot, and we hope it will be approved in the near future.

INTRODUCTION: This Standard specifies the basic policies, processes, procedures, and resources needed by a Language Service Company (LSC) to provide the quality services required by its clients. This standard is meant to be a general introduction to the requirements of an LSC, but we leave it for future exposition as to the specific standards for specified functions including, but not limited to, translation, interpreting, language training and language testing.

This standard represents a minimum requirement for all language service companies, but is meant to be supplemented by specific standards pertinent to specific service areas, such as the services enumerated above. By adhering to the requirements of the Standard, an LSC will consistently meet or exceed client expectations, and that level of performance will bring substantial benefit to the client as well as greater professional recognition to those companies that are certified to this Standard.

SCOPE: This Standard Practice establishes minimum infrastructure, operations, and development requirements for a Language Service Company (LSC) to meet the diverse and evolving needs of its clients as expressed in the job specifications for assignments, as outlined in a Job Needs Analysis. The principles presented in this Standard Practice are of value to all LSCs and in particular to those companies starting up in the industry and working to achieve the description of an LSC eligible for certification in Section 5 of this Standard.

The Introduction, as mentioned, remains identical to the previous version.

The Scope is largely the same as the previous version, with two differences. First, the terminology was clarified to correctly label this document a “Standard Practice,” not a “Practice Standard.” Second, the value of the standard is clearly stated, in an effort to set the stage for the ongoing professionalization of the language services industry.

For those seeking professional language services that meet quality standards, contact us today and learn how we can assist you in bridging the language gap in your industry.

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