The responsibility of the translator (Ex Ante)

When we talk about the responsibility of the translator, we approach the term with a dual perspective. We refer to the notion in terms of the proactive nature of the translator before and during the development of their work. We also make reference to the awareness of the possible repercussions that, as a professional, the translator must face in the event that the final product does not correspond with what was contractually agreed on or in case the work does damage to the client.

How do we fulfil these responsibilities and how far do they extend?


Quality and professionalism

The moment someone decides to become a professional translator/reviser, they enter into an agreement that they will take on any responsibility that comes with the role.

Whilst the agreement is an abstract concept, it serves as a moral compass that must be observed throughout the entire work process, and which is rooted in the basic pillars of translation quality.

For both the work’s development and the final product, the notion of producing high-quality work is a concept that is strongly characterised by its relativity. As Parra-Galiano affirms “it is practically impossible to define the concept of quality in translation in a way that is agreed upon by all actors involved”. (HERMĒNEUS 19, 2017)

However, within the parameters of subjectivity, the ISO 17001:2015[1] standard, published 18th November 2015, offers a general criteria for providing a so-called “quality translation service”. It is a criteria which aims to serve as a guide for all professionals involved in translation, whether they be a freelancer translator, translation agency or company language department.

The revision stage

Firstly, the criteria’s most notable feature is the need for translations to always be subsequently revised by a qualified translator/reviser who is not the original translator.

As a result, the translation service is not limited to solely translation (i.e. the transfer of a text from one language to another, from the source text to the target text), but also extends to incorporating another step in the process.

After the translator has reviewed and confirmed their own work, the reviser intervenes with a bilingual revision of the text[2] which guarantees the client higher quality with the final product.

Keeping in mind the nature of translation being a job not typically done by machines, even the most meticulous and most experienced professionals and experts can fall victim to human error. Such errors should, in theory, be ironed out during the revision phase.

Sometimes, revising texts can easily be more complicated than the translation itself. Revision doesn’t only consist of verifying and revising grammar, spelling and terminology, but also checking style and drafting.

Professional competence

In view of the complexity involved in translation, we would like to also highlight another factor that determines the quality of translation right from the beginning stages: the professional competence of the agents involved.

In many cases, especially when just starting out in the world of professional translation, people often say ‘yes’ to work that they really should not be doing, simply to fill a hole in the market and with the goal of building a Rolodex of clients. However, not always do these translators have the required skills, professional specialisations or aptitude to step up to the difficult challenges posed by many of these translations.

The ISO regulation, in reference to the skill profile of translators and revisers, asks that the translation service providers only work with professionals certified in Translation and Interpretation or with those who can demonstrate a wide experience and knowledge of the field.

Curiously, the regulation requires reviewers to be specialised in the particular field of the text to be reviewed but does not ask the same of translators. Surely, being first in the translation process, they should also be required to specialise in order to carry out the projects in an adequate manner. We should be (or at least aspire to be) an expert in the text field in which we are translating. This being true, simply having a degree in Translation does not suffice.  As such, the specialisation of translators and revisers must be a gradual and non-stop process, and should even involve going for higher studies in fields other than Translation.

With the assumption that all agents involved are sufficiently qualified, we can suppose that the translation will be done to a high quality being used by the professionals who fall on their qualifications and professional experience.

Contract terms

There are many other factors to take into account when taking on a translation project: having the right IT resources (office tools, computer-assisted translation), confirming the viability of the project and the feasibility of its delivery deadlines and, where appropriate, prioritising the client’s needs.

We must not forget that translation/revision services are provided to individuals or groups with their own subjectivity and, consequently, their own requirements.

It may be that a client chooses to use a specific terminology or a more literal style in the translation and, as far as possible, we must adapt to these requirements. Why? Firstly, because our responsibility must adhere to a service contract created with mutually agreed conditions from all parties. Moreover, because we also have to bear in mind the purpose of the translation. It is not uncommon for clients to be conditioned by requirements set by certain publication houses. Thus, communication with the client is key.

In short, in fulfilling their ex ante responsibility, a translator must respect the translation profession by being aware of their capabilities, limitations and the needs for each given project. Their objective, like that of any professional, is to provide a high-quality service, to ensure that clients are satisfied with the final product and to become more specialised in certain areas, increasing their professional and translation skills through the process. Be responsible for/with your translations, your clients and your role as a translator.

Responsibility of the translator


[1] International standard for translation service providers. It is worth noting that it does not apply to sworn translations.

[2] The ISO 17001:2015 standard defines revision as the “bilingual checking of the target language content against the source language content with regard to its suitability for its intended purpose”.



Translated by Christian Copeland

About María Jesús Fernández Villar

Bachelor's degree in Translation and Interpreting. Degree in Law. Sworn Translator ES-FR No. 8381. Translator and proofreader in the French and English to Spanish combinations.

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