Specialists in oral translation services

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Top ten things you need to know about ISO standards and the conference interpreting profession

 By Michelle Hof,  Aib

Earlier this year, I attended a workshop organised by AIIC Training and Professional Development that made it clear to me that conference interpreters need to know more about ISO standards and how they affect our profession. The two expert trainers, Verónica Pérez Guarnieri and Haris Ghinos, have made substantial contributions to the development of these standards through their work with ISO over the years. Verónica is the Convener of the ISO TC37/SC5/WG2 working group, made up of close to 200 experts working on the standardization of interpreting, and Haris was Project Leader at ISO TC37/SC5/WG2 for ISO 23155:2022 on Conference interpreting services (more on that in a moment). I am grateful to them for having shared their expertise with their fellow interpreters at this training event.

There is a lot to learn about the role that ISO standards can and should play in our profession – far more than can be covered in a short blog post – so let’s just focus on the top ten practical takeaways from the training event I attended.

1. The first, and perhaps most important, lesson to be learned is that there are actually ISO standards that apply to our profession. A lot of interpreters aren’t aware of this. Here is a list of the most relevant ones, in the order that they were published:

ISO 13611:2014 Interpreting – Guidelines for community interpreting
ISO 18841:2018 Interpreting services – General requirements and recommendations
ISO 20228:2019 Interpreting services – Legal interpreting – Requirements
ISO 21998:2020 Healthcare interpreting – Requirements and recommendations
ISO/PAS 24019:2020 Simultaneous Interpreting Delivery Platforms – Requirements and recommendations

2. The conference interpreters among us may have noticed that conference interpreting isn’t specifically referred to in the list above. My second important message for readers is that, as of January 2022, there is now a specific standard just for conference interpreting:

ISO 23155:2022 Interpreting services – Conference interpreting – Requirements and recommendations

3. Let’s unpack that last point a bit. It may not look like much, just a series of numbers, but ISO 23155:2022 offers a wealth of information. It includes sections with general provisions about conference interpreting, requirements and recommendations applicable to conference interpreters in connection with conference interpreting assignments, and requirements concerning the conference interpreting service provider. It also contains a series of annexes describing a typical conference interpreting workflow, a sample code of conduct, the content of an assignment agreement, a description of customary practice when recruiting conference interpreters, and more.

4. ISO 23155:2022 also contains a number of useful definitions of concepts related to language, to parties involved in conference interpreting and modes of interpreting, and to conference interpreting equipment and settings. Just to give one example: for what I believe is the first time, the term “conference interpreting” is defined. The definition states that conference interpreting is “interpreting used for multilingual communication at technical, political, scientific and other formal meetings”. So the next time somebody tells you that the task of the conference interpreter is impossible to describe or explain, you can point them to the ISO definition!

5. Another interesting definition to be found in ISO 23155:2022 is that of Conference Interpreting Service Provider or CISP, which, as Haris explained to us during the training, is a role meant to cover individual conference interpreters, groups of conference interpreters, consultant interpreters, language service providers, government departments, international organizations, and more. If you fall into one of these groups, it is worthwhile seeing how this definition is covered by this ISO standard, as it may help you – and your client – better understand your task.

6. You need to purchase ISO standards to be able to consult the full text and quote them in contracts or tendering procedures. They can be purchased online at the ISO store. However, anyone can access a free preview of any ISO standard containing the Foreword, Introduction, Scope, Normative references, and Terms and definitions. The free preview for ISO 23155:2022 can be found here.

7. It’s worth noting that AIIC members can access the full texts of relevant ISO standards, including the ones listed above, on the Association’s intranet. Other professional associations may have negotiated access for their members, so if you belong to another association, you may want to check it out.

8. Conference interpreters, in particular those who run companies or work as consultants, should think about getting certified for ISO 23155:2022. It will take some time and resources to obtain certification, but it is worth the effort. There are also other ISO standards for which companies or consultants may wish to obtain certification, including ISO 9001 on quality management.

9. Conference interpreters can contribute to the ISO standard drafting process. You can do this through your national standardisation bodies. You can’t join as an individual, but you can represent a company, association, organisation or educational institution (note that there are fees involved).

10. To find out more about how ISO works, there are plenty of free resources available. You can, for instance, learn more about the Language and Terminology Technical Committee and its subgroups and working parties, including the one that deals with interpreting. You can find out about the Stages and resources for standard development . Also, ISO maintains an Online Browsing Platform where you can consult ISO terms and definitions, preview standards before you buy, search within documents and more.

This was just a quick overview of my main takeaways from last spring’s training on ISO standards for conference interpreters. I strongly recommend you take some time to find out more about how ISO standards can affect our profession – and if you can attend another event with Verónica or Haris to get the information from the horse’s mouth, then all the better!