Industry Standards Demystified – Part 9

Published on 03.05.2023

ISO 23155:2022 Interpreting services —Conference interpreting — Requirements and recommendations.

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

ISO 23155:2022 specifies requirements and recommendations for the provision of conference interpreting services. It is primarily addressed to conference interpreters and conference interpreting service providers (CISPs). It also serves as reference for users of conference interpreting services. Its scope covers basic principles and best practice and the required competences and qualifications of conference interpreters. The document also describes the various conference settings, interpreting modes and maps the process. The standard is applicable to all parties involved in facilitating communication between users of conference services using a spoken or signed language. The scope of ISO 23155 does not cover any translation services.

ISO 23155 was developed in response to a worldwide growing need for general requirements for the provision of quality conference interpreting services. It offers information and guidance to users and all parties involved in conference interpreting. These users include: conference interpreters, conference interpreting service providers (CISPs), consultant interpreters, language service providers (LSPs), international organizations, governments and agencies, conference organizers, conference centres, providers of conference interpreting equipment, and educational institutions.

Apart from the standard introduction and scope, ISO/DIS 23155 provides basic information about conference interpreting, relevant terms and definitions, modes of interpreting, teamwork between interpreters, code of ethics, and requirements for competences and qualifications of conference interpreters.

Clause 3 provides definitions for key terms, such as: ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ language, working language, conference interpreter, conference interpreting service provider (CISP), spoken language interpreting, signed language interpreting, conference interpreting service, consultant interpreter, mode, consecutive interpreting, simultaneous interpreting, whispered interpreting, note-taking, interpreting system, interpreter console, booth, relay interpreting, distance interpreting etc. This information is an important industry resource in itself.

Clause 4 offers basic information about conference interpreting. It is clearly stated that conference interpreting is a profession, and not an informal practice. Conference interpreting is provided at bilingual and multilingual conferences to facilitate communication between participants using different spoken or signed languages, and that it is an intellectually demanding activity. Conference interpreting can be particularly strenuous and stressful owing to specific characteristics of such assignments and inherent risk factors such as the level of technical detail, quality of equipment, public speaking, dependence on partners, work environment (booth size, ventilation, lighting), the difficulty in achieving a good work-life balance due to travelling, higher than usual error rate, unpredictable schedules, etc.

Clause 4 also sets the requirement that conference interpreters shall work in teams of at least two interpreters per booth when a conference exceeds 45 minutes. Depending on the language combination and the complexity of the assignment, this time limit can be reduced. The number of conference interpreters in a team of conference interpreters primarily depends on the number of languages used at the conference, as well as on its duration and difficulty. It is also recommended that, due to health and quality considerations, an interpreter’s working day should not exceed two sessions of three-and-a-half hours, separated by a 90-minute break, and these recommendations are much stricter in case of distance interpreting (aka remote interpreting).

Clause 5 deals with the competences and qualifications required of conference interpreters. The required competences are divided into: intellectual, linguistic, interpreting, communicative, intercultural, technical, interpersonal, research, information acquisition and knowledge management, business, information security, and stress management.

According to clause 5 of the standard, as part of the formal qualifications required, conference interpreters shall present documented evidence of meeting at least one of the following criteria:

  1. a degree from a recognized postgraduate study programme in conference interpreting;
  2. a degree from a recognized higher-education undergraduate study programme of at least three years in conference interpreting, that is equivalent to a postgraduate programme in terms of scope, content, and core competences taught;
  3. a degree from a recognized higher-education study programme (Bachelor level or higher) in a subject other than conference interpreting, and proof of 150 days of experience working as a conference interpreter in compliance with this document;
  4. accreditation as a conference interpreter by an international organization or a national government agency or department.

Clause 6 describes the service process and requirements and recommendations before, during and after the conference interpreting assignment. Additionally, this section of the standard covers such issues as: confidentiality, travel arrangements, preparation, information and terminology management, ongoing quality assurance measures, planning phase, responsibilities of the client requesting the conference interpreting service etc.

Clause 7 covers the requirements concerning the conference interpreting service provider (CISP). This includes responsibilities of the client requesting the conference interpreting service and the CISP, agreements with conference interpreters and other important issues that need to be addressed before the start of the conference and after the conference.

ISO 23155 includes six informative (as opposed to normative) Annexes:

  • Annex A – Conference Interpreting Workflow
  • Annex B – Example of a code of conduct for conference interpreters
  • Annex C – Content of assignment agreement
  • Annex D – Head of team
  • Annex E – Team Strength
  • Annex F – Customary conference interpreters’ recruitment practices

Given the fact that ISO 23155 is a recommendations standard, conference interpreting service providers (CISPs) can certify against it. From the practical and certification point of view, fulfilment of all the requirements set out in ISO 23155 allows the CISP to demonstrate conformity of their services to this document and their capability to maintain a level of quality in interpreting services that will meet the client’s and other applicable specifications. In theory, individual conference interpreters could also certify against the standard but the certification of individuals is a complex process governed by different regulations and rules, so certification of individuals under this standard may not be possible at this time.

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 thirty-five years and is an authorised certified legal translator. She has been the CEO of MAart Agency Ltd. since 1991, the 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, the EUATC Liaison Rep. to ISO TC 37, member of ATA, and many other organisations. Monika 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 international conferences. Her research specializations are: quality management, translation quality assurance, specialist translation and standards (particularly ISO 17100, ISO 20771, ISO 9001, ISO/IEC 82079-1). She was one of the editors for the ISO 17100 (Translation services – Requirements), Project Leader for two ISO standards (ISO 21998 and ISO 21999), and is the manager of the ISO TC 37 LinkedIn Industry Standards Group.
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