ISO 18587

What does this norm mean for language service providers and translation agencies?

Machine translation has made significant progress. ‘Big tech’ companies such as Google, Facebook, DeepL, Alibaba, Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce etc. have invested enormous sums in recent years in the development and further development of machine translation.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has responded to this development in collaboration with specialists from the translation industry and issued a new translation-related international standard:

ISO 18587, Translation services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements.
This sets out the conditions and requirements for the editing of machine translation output.

Which new features does ISO 18587 contain and what do translation service providers and clients need to pay attention to?

Translators and proofreaders become post-editors

This norm primarily addresses the term “post-editing” and focuses on post-editors rather than translators. Strictly speaking, machine output is already produced whenever a text is subjected to an initial review by the CAT tool or a computer-assisted analysis prior to the translation itself.

Definition of full post-editing vs. light post-editing

ISO 18587 distinguishes between full and light post-editing. The former generates “a product comparable with a human translation”. The latter produces an easily comprehensible text.

The end client ultimately decides which standard of quality is decisive in its individual case. For example, while internal communication without corporate terminology may be suitable for machine translation, full post-editing is to be recommended for contracts, official documents and sales documentation.

Data classification must be upheld at all times in order to guarantee the confidentiality and protection of personal data in advance.

Post-editors must have the same qualifications as translators

According to ISO 18587, professional translators are to be deployed for post-editing within the meaning of ISO 17100. A language service provider must for this reason be able to prove that its post-editors either

  • hold a linguistic degree from a recognised institution consisting to a significant extent of translation modules;

  • hold a degree in another discipline and also have two years of experience as professional translators or post-editors or

  • have five years of experience as professional translators or post-editors.

Pre-editing as part of the service

Machine translation tools are incorporated into the existing translation process wherever this makes sense and in agreement with the end client. For this reason, the editing of machine output requires specific prior knowledge of CAT tools and an in-depth understanding of interaction between terminology management systems. Before a text can be processed via an interface (API) it must be pre-edited by a professional.

Both project managers and post-editors need to be provided with full training. Identifying frequent mistakes of machine translation is secondary, as neural machine translation is also a kind of ‘black box’: no-one really knows what is happening in the background. Much more important is an initial assessment by the professional native tongue translator, who must be able to judge whether post-editing can generate the required text quality or whether a human translation is to be recommended. A feel for outlay and time coupled with live tests for major projects is absolutely essential.

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