Are BS EN 15038 and BS EN ISO 17100 really a guarantee of quality?

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As a guarantee of the high quality of their technical translations, many companies refer to the standards BS EN 15038 / BS EN ISO 17100. The differences between the old and the new version of the standard are explained below, together with the reasons why a translation according to this standard is not automatically a guarantee of quality.
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Differences between BS EN 15038 and BS EN ISO 17100

While the BS EN 15038 standard basically focuses on the translation itself (the product), the BS EN ISO 17100 standard specifies requirements for all aspects of the translation process [1] "... which directly affect the quality and delivery of translation services".

New Terms

The BS EN ISO 17100 standard is also much more comprehensive than BS EN 15038, as it contains a longer and more detailed list of terms. Some already existing terms have been redefined, the definitions have generally been extended and new terms have been added. From now on there is a clear difference between "revision " [2] and "technical review" [3].

International Standard

Furthermore, unlike BS EN 15038, BS EN ISO 17100 is an international standard with which the quality of translation services can be compared at the European level.

New Actors

According to BS EN 15038, the persons involved in a translation project include the translator, the proofreader and, if necessary, a reviewer.

Two new actors come into play in the BS EN ISO 17100 standard: client and project manager. The new ISO standard also recognises their importance in the translation process, since in practice it is not only translators and proofreaders who are involved.

While the project manager coordinates the completion of the translation project, the entire workflow and the selection of a good translator and proofreader, the client is responsible for terminology lists, specific stylistic requirements and other information related to the project.

Security and Data Protection

Compared to BS EN 15038, information security checking and data protection are also completely new. According to the BS EN ISO 17100 standard, these requirements are mandatory, as translations are often confidential or contain sensitive client information.

Our points of criticism concerning the ISO standard

The BS EN 15038 / BS EN ISO 17100 standards define requirements for the core processes, resources, and other aspects necessary for the delivery of a high-quality translation service that meets applicable specifications.

Although this standard can contribute to a certain extent to a higher quality of professional technical translations, we believe it has several weaknesses...

1. Specific requirements for a project

The ISO standard contains many requirements which are subject to an explicit agreement. They are therefore not binding without agreement.

2. Native speaker translator

The ISO standard does not explicitly require that the target language is also the translator's native language.

"Linguistic and textual competence in the source and target language: ability to understand the source language, fluency in the target language and general or specific knowledge of textual conventions.”

3. Terminology

The ISO standard does not require terminology work. Everything concerning terminology must be agreed separately as an additional service. There is also no information at all on the origin of the terminology.

"The customer and the TSP may agree that the TSP must ensure the availability of the terminology necessary for the execution of the translation project. The agreement may include the scope of the terminology work and descriptions of the terminology tasks to be performed by the TSP and the specifications for the use of this terminology. (TSP = translation service provider)"

Project preparation may include: "Acquiring or creating translation memories, terminology databases, style guides and any other resources that may be available that could be useful for the translation process;"

Translation technologies can include: "...Translation Memory (TM) tools...; quality assurance tools, revision tools, ... Terminology management systems..."

Other value-added services may include, among others: "... Terminology management;...technical editing;...terminological consistency;..."

4. Review by a reviser

The ISO standard requires the text to be reviewed by a reviser (principle of double-checking). Although the reviser does not necessarily have to be more competent than the translator, his corrections must be accepted. Furthermore, no cooperation between reviser and translator is envisaged.

“The TSP must ensure that revisers have all .... the competencies defined for translators, the qualifications ... (of a translator) and have translation and/or revision competence in the subject area.“

5. Review

The ISO standard does not require a text to be read by a reviewer with expert knowledge (unless expressly agreed in advance).

Project management may also include the following: "if necessary, assign one or more competent technical reviewers to the translation project; if necessary, carry out corrections and/or corrective actions"

"If the product specifications call for a technical review, the TSP must ensure that the target language content is technically checked. ... The TSP may instruct the technical reviewer to make corrections".

6. Analysis of the source text

The ISO standard requires an analysis of the source text before translation in order to clarify any translation problems in advance. The scope of this analysis remains unclear: the analysis itself is only briefly mentioned in the annex to the standard. There is also no mention of the (high) competence required for such an analysis. The costs of this step are disproportionate to the possible outcome.

"The TSP must ensure that the source language content is analysed to ensure that the translation project is carried out efficiently and effectively".


Even if the idea of ISO certification is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it is still no guarantee of correct and high-quality translations. As a customer, it is important that you are familiar with the content and compensate for the deficits with concrete agreements - as long as the translation service remains affordable for you!

PTS - high-quality translations even without ISO certification

In our company, we attach great importance to the quality of our technical translations. Our translations are characterised by the highest linguistic and technical (terminology) quality and are systematically reviewed by specialised engineers with specific technical knowledge.

See the quality for yourself and request a non-binding quote.


1. Interpreting services and the use of raw output from machine translation plus post-editing is outside the scope of the BS EN ISO 17100 standard.

2. Revision: “bilingual examination of target language content ... against source language content ... for its suitability for the agreed purpose.”

3. Review: “monolingual examination of target language content ... for its suitability for the agreed purpose.“

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