How important is ISO 17100 certification for translation companies?
April 28, 2021 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm reviewing competitive bids from translation companies for a research study, and trying to figure out whether it matters that one has ISO 17100 certification and the other doesn't.

The translators will be translating study documents (consent forms, surveys) from English into Spanish. Half of my project team speaks Spanish, so we will be able to do in-house review of whatever they translate, but I still want to be able to demonstrate that our processes for this are iron-clad. I've narrowed it down to two companies that were both recommended to me by colleagues and have experience with research translation.

One company is $1.5k more expensive but has ISO 17100 and ISO 9001:2015 certification. The other company said they were ISO 9001:2015 certified when I asked them directly if they were ISO 17100 certified, which felt like a bit of an evasive response given that ISO 9001:2015 (to my understanding) reflects project processes rather than translation specifically. Both are within my project budget but I’d like to save money if I can.

Any other credentials or considerations I should be thinking/asking about as I’m comparing translation companies would be helpful to know about!
posted by quiet coyote to Writing & Language (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a graphic designer for a medical device manufacturer (we're ISO 13485), and I take care of getting our translations done. The company I've used for 10 years is 9002, 13485, and 17100. Our quality department is very thorough, and never specified that I use a translator that meets any ISO standard, let alone 17100. All the ISO standards reflect processes. It's just that 17100 addresses translations-specific processes. From what I understand, An ISO certified company can still produce crap. The ISO certification just means that they follow specific procedures for producing that crap. You say this is for a research study. Does the recipient of the study care either way? If not, I can't imagine it makes a difference.
posted by jonathanhughes at 12:15 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

I used to work in translation, and I would highly, highly recommend developing an agreed-upon glossary for any technical terms from the consent form on down. The UNESCO bioethics documents are where we started for one project.

Second, even if you have native Spanish speakers, make sure you have defined which dialects and target educational levels you are targeting, or (see the glossary above), which compromises in terminology are most likely to be understood by a broader audience.

Thirdly: there's a lot of different certifications in translation, and honestly, at least in the US, the only certification that meant anything (and only applied for the languages that they certify) was the American Translators Association certification that you actually knew the languages you translated from and into. English > Spanish is common enough that you might find a certified translator, but they usually charge accordingly more.

Even then, a translator out of their comfort zone can get into real trouble going into very specialized areas armed only with a dictionary. If your text is simple enough to read in English, it should be simple enough to translate into Spanish. If it's something dense in English, you'll need a better and more expensive translator.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:29 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

When in doubt, ask for references and evidence of ISO quality assurance. A good example is understanding what constitutes a never event or business continuity fault in relation to a client contract.
posted by parmanparman at 2:56 PM on April 28

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