Industry Standards Demystified – Part 2

Published on 13.12.2019

ISO 18841:2018 Interpreting services – Requirements and recommendations

By: Monika Popiolek, ATA TCD Newsletter and Blog contributor and ISO/CEN industry standards expert

Standard information:

Published: 2018 (Ed. 1)

Due for review: 2023

Number of pages: 16

Type of standard: requirements and guidance document

Technical Committee responsible: ISO/TC 37/SC 5 Translation, interpreting and related technology WG 2

ISO 18841 lays down the basic requirements for provision of interpreting services as well as recommendations of good practice. The standard was developed in response to the need to provide general service requirements for the provision of quality interpreting services and was conceived as an ‘umbrella standard’ for a series of ISO standards on interpreting.
ISO 18841 provides requirements and recommendations for the delivery of spoken and signed communication across languages and societal contexts and references interpreting specializations. The standard may be used in conjunction with other interpreting specialization standards.

The key areas covered by the standard are interpreting-related terms and definitions, minimum competence and qualifications requirements for individual interpreters and minimum requirements for Interpreting Service Providers (ISPs) operating as agencies. The concept of ISPs includes self-employed interpreters who are sole-traders and operate as small agencies.

As a generalist standard, ISO 18841 is considered to be a good source of information for all industry stakeholders and newcomers on interpreting best practice and requirements.

Interpreters render spoken or signed communication across languages. Interpreting differs from translation, which is the rendering of written content into another written language in non-real time.

ISO 18841 provides all the useful terms and definitions for the most important interpreting terms and concepts, such as: working languages (e.g. A, B) , types of interpreting services, modes of interpreting (e.g. consecutive, simultaneous), types of interpreting settings and specializations (e.g. community, legal, healthcare etc.) and descriptions of how the different types of interpreting services work in the various interpreting settings. Additionally, the standard offers language-related and ethical guidelines, and some insight into the technical aspects of the interpreting service.

It needs to be stressed here that in developed countries specialist interpreting (such as legal, medical etc.) is treated as a professional niche that is not sufficiently covered by general interpreting standards. It is also important to note that, the there is a separate ISO standard for specialist legal interpreting services (in terms of both requirements and recommendations), and that is ISO 20228:2019.

As in the case of ISO 13611, the ISO 18841 is voluntary and does not supersede national standards or any legislation related to the interpreting sector or service, including court or legal interpreting.

As a mixed standard (recommendations and guidance document) ISO 18841 is theoretically certifiable but no recognized certification schemes have been developed to date. The standard is still fairly new and not very popular on the market. For the time being it remains relatively unknown in Europe, where interpreting services are quite well regulated.


Author information: Monika Popiolek has an MA in English, an Executive MBA and is a graduate of a PhD Management Programme. She has been a specialist translator and interpreter for over thirty years and is also a authorised certified legal translator, CEO of MAart Agency Ltd. since 1991, President of the Polish Association of Translation Companies (PSBT) since 2009, Head of National Delegation and Chair of the ISO TC 37 Mirror Committee at PKN, OASIS, ISO and CEN expert (since 2007) as well as and the EUATC Liaison Rep. to ISO TC 37, member of ATA, TEPIS, SAAMBA, and many other organisations. She is the author of many publications, member of the editorial board of the JIAL journal (John Benjamins Publishing Company) and has presented at more than 25 leading international conferences. Her research specializations are: quality management, translation quality assurance, specialist translation and standards (e.g.  EN 15038, ISO 17100, ISO 9001, ISO 9004, ISO/IEC 82079-1, ISO 13485, ISO 27001, ISO 20771, ISO 21999, EFQM, TQM). She was one of the editors for the ISO 17100 (Translation services – Requirements), Project Leader for two ISO standards (ISO 20771 and ISO 21999), and is the manager of the ISO TC 37 LinkedIn Industry Standards Group.

You can find and contact her on LinkedIn: