Friday, September 8, 2017

ISO 18587: What it means for translation providers

Quality is one of the most crucial factors within the translation industry. Responsible providers not only know that high translation quality is an ongoing sales pitch, but that the perception of quality throughout the entire industry is important for all players involved. 
The evolution of machine translation (MT) is a game-changer in how the industry itself (and subsequently the public) considers the quality of translation services, and what is a translation service as such in the wake of machines assisting with translation.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) together with translation industry professionals have addressed the development by issuing two translation-related international standards, namely:
So, what is new with ISO 18587 and what should translation providers and clients alike pay attention to?

ISO 18578:2017 - Post-editing of machine translation output.

Translators and reviewers become post-editors

The norm deals chiefly with the term "post-editing" and focuses on "post-editors" instead of translators. In a strict sense, whenever input text passes through an initial CAT tool check or any computer-assisted pre-translation analysis or content processing, it becomes machine output.

Defining full post-editing vs. light post-editing

Moreover, the ISO 18587 standard distinguishes between “full post-editing” as a product comparable to a product of human translation in the final result, and “light post-editing” that provides results of "merely comprehensible text without any attempt to be similar to human translation" (as defined in Annex B of the norm). Obviously, in terms of the current perception of "quality" within today's translation industry, only full post-editing meets the quality standards as it delivers a professionally impeccable result. 
However, as long as “the final text is not intended for publication”, the norm clearly states what requirements need to be met to establish light-post editing that could, in fact, be turned into a service. It's up to discussion whether this approach of post-editing output quality will be feasible in the near future.

Post-editors need the same qualifications as translators

In ISO 18578, post-editors are considered translation professionals in the exact same sense as in ISO 17100, therefore an LSP needs to provide evidence that its post-editors either:
  • obtained a linguistic degree that has required significant translation training from a recognized organization, or
  • hold a degree from a field other than translation, while the subject can prove two years of professional experience in translation or post-editing, or
  • can prove an experience of 5 years of full-time translation or post-editing

Training of post-editors for machine output required

As translators transform into post-editors in this type of service, and because machines are heavily involved in the translation process, editing of MT output requires special knowledge of CAT tools and an understanding of how translation and terminology management systems interact with MT and MT systems. Post-editors need to be thoroughly trained to use the post-editing tools, recognize common MT errors, assess whether it makes sense to even edit the MT output in terms of effort and time spent and to become familiar with the difference between the full and light post-editing processes and the eventual outcome.

To maintain a high regard for the players in the translation industry, and especially for the companies that rely on the use of translation memories and other translation resources and workflows including MT, we would highly recommend getting familiar with the ISO 18587 standard and also consider their third-party translation suppliers' quality approach in the context of post-editing MT output.

All translation services by idioma are performed in compliance with ISO 9001:2016 (, ISO 17100:2015 (, as well as ISO 18587:2017 ( RI004) standards.


  1. I agree basically that "Post-editors need the same qualifications as translators". If the post editor relies too heavily on machine translation, or if the Post editor trusts the machine translation result too much, the translation quality may be much lower than the translation quality of professional translators.

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