Finding the right translation service provider for your documents can be a difficult job, especially when you don’t master one of the languages concerned. Almost everyone will promise you a high quality translation. So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

International standards for translation

Big translation companies will refer to their conformity to an international standard. Most often it will be ISO 9001, EN 15038 or more recently ISO 17100. Few of them actually explain what these standards stand for.

As for ISO 9001, it’s an international standard regarding quality management in general. It  describes the requirements a company needs to fulfill to maintain and improve customer satisfaction. It has very little to do with the actual translation process within a translation company and can’t guarantee a high quality translation.

The translation industry soon became conscious of this problem and started to develop its own standards. So the CEN, the European Committee for Standardization, and EUATC (the European Association of Translation Companies) launched EN 15038 in 2006. It was recently followed by the publication of ISO 17100 on an international level. These standards clearly define the requirements “for the delivery of a quality translation service.” They concern:

  1. minimum standards for HR and the translation process,
  2. the relation between the customer and the translation service provider, and
  3. procedures for the delivery of translation services.

The focus lies on the written documentation of all procedures relating to the translation. This is one of the reasons why relatively few actors in the business are certified. The drafting and implementation of a detailed manual can be very time consuming. Moreover, the certification audit is pretty costly, while the benefits are not sure.

Quality without ISO certification

Does this mean that non-certified actors can’t guarantee a high quality translation? Not exactly. One of the key quality elements in EN 15038 and ISO 17100 certification is the four eyes principle: every translation has to be reviewed by at least one other person. To achieve the same quality level, I’ve seen colleagues working together, reviewing each others translations, or clients doing the review themselves internally.

You can also ask yourself which quality level is required. You can’t allow mistakes in documents destined for clients or press without the risk of damaging your reputation. In that case a translation along the four eyes principle is the most suitable. However, a lot of documents are destined for internal use only. A simple translation might be sufficient, since the transfer of meaning is more important than possible typos. Moreover, the risk of errors will be considerably reduced when hiring a good translator.

How to find the right translator?

One more or less returns to the initial question: how do I find a good translator? Well, by doing what certified translation agencies do:

  • Check the qualifications of a translator on his/her website or LinkedIn profile. You can also consult the register of professional associations like the Belgian Chamber of Translators and Interpreters which apply strict membership criteria.
  • Check the experience of a translator by asking for references or samples.
  • Look for a translator who has specialised in your sector.
  • Ask the translator how he/she works. Ask more info about workflow, CAT tools, terminology management, …

In a way, it’s just using your common sense. Would you hire a contractor without having seen one of his buildings first?

And most importantly: provide the translator with as much information as possible about your preferred terminology, style guides, context, target audience, … It will all help your translator make the right translation choices.


When talking about quality translation, one should define it precisely. Do you need a translation that engages your target audience as much as the original? Or is a correct transfer of the meaning of a text enough? Each option asks for a different translation process.

A certified translation agency can reassure you about quality. They can also save you time, especially when you need translations in several languages. This comfort comes with a certain price tag though.

A freelance translator will probably be less expensive. You need to do your own research and preparations, but it can be just as easy as working with a translation agency if you chose a specialised one or always the same language pairs. Thus, your final choice depends a lot on your personal preferences.

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