By Milena Calderari-Waldron
Have you ever been asked to do a trial on your own? Have you ever felt stumped when asked for a definition of interpreting? Have you ever found yourself explaining your rates? Ever wondered if there is some useful language out there that you could include in your contract negotiations? Fret no more. The ASTM[i] F2089-15 Standard Practice for Language Interpreting has come to your rescue! ATA[ii], NAJIT[iii], NCIHC[iv], RID[v], and AIIC[vi] members in partnership with government agencies, language companies, higher education institutions and even an interpreters’ labor union[vii] came together to create a national consensus document laying down the ground rules and definitions for spoken and signed language interpreting services.
How are the ASTM International Standards created?
According to ASTM’s own regulations[viii], a standard is “a document that has been developed and established within the consensus process of the Society and that meets the approval requirements of ASTM procedures and regulations.” The ASTM F43 Committee on Language Services and Products was created in 2010 in response to global market demands. Previously, the language standards existed within the F15 Consumer Products Committee alongside such things as baby strollers. The first ASTM standard for interpreting was published in 2001 and re-approved in 2007. Unlike its predecessor, the 2015 standard was re-written and it is now a practice, not just a guide. There are six different types of ASTM standards: Test Method, Specification, Classification, Practice, Guide, and Terminology. A standard Guide is “an organized collection of information or series of options that does not recommend a specific course of action.” It increases the awareness of information and approaches in a given subject area. On the other hand, a standard Practice is a definitive set of instructions for performing one or more specific operations that does not include a test result[ix]. Standard practices may have greater weight in contract negotiations, subject to the parties involved
The scope of the ASTM F43 Committee[x] is “the development of standards (specifications, guides, test methods, classifications, practices, and terminology) for language services and products.” The committee works in tandem with other ASTM technical committees that have mutual interests and organizations such as the International Standards Organization (ISO). Each ASTM main committee is composed of subcommittees that address specific segments within the general subject area covered by the technical committee. Below are the subcommittees that fall under the jurisdiction of the ASTM F43 Committee on Language Services and Products.
F43.01 Language Interpreting
F43.02 Foreign Language Instruction
F43.03 Language Translation
F43.04 Language Testing
F43.05 Quality Assurance in Language Services
F43.95 ISO/TC 232 Learning Services Outside Formal Education
F43.96 US TAG to ISO/TC 37 Terminology and other Language and Content Resources
Each ASTM subcommittee is composed of Producers (e.g., interpreters), Users (e.g., government agencies that contract with interpreters) and General Interest members (e.g., academics). The ASTM committee assigns one vote per organization that joins each subcommittee. For example, an interpreting/translation industry giant is allocated one vote, and a freelance interpreter gets one vote too. Users, general interest members, and producers of the service/product all sit at the same decision table. The subcommittee develops drafts and posts them online in a collaboration area for other subcommittee members to review and comment upon. At each drafting session, the workgroup addresses the comments submitted and issues a new draft. It is important to note that producers are not allowed to have more than 50% of the official vote.
Once finalized, the proposed draft has to be voted on at the subcommittee level. ASTM requires that at least 60% of the official voters return their ballot and there must be at least a 66% affirmative vote before it can proceed to a vote at the ASTM F43 Main Committee level. The requirements of a main committee ballot are again a minimum of a 60% return of the official voters and this time, a 90% affirmative vote to be a valid ballot. A much higher level of consensus is required here. All negative votes must be addressed. Declaring a vote as “non-persuasive” must be voted on by the entire subcommittee, and it must be voted on at the main committee as well, if it was a main committee ballot. A negative vote that is found “persuasive” removes the item from the ballot. It is then up to the task group to decide if they wish to rework and re-ballot the item. Creating an ASTM standard is a consensus driven process indeed!
Are ASTM Standards mandatory?
The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA)[xi] was signed into law in 1996. The Act made a direct impact on the development of new industrial and technology standards by requiring that all federal agencies and departments:
- Use technical standards developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies if compliance would not be inconsistent with applicable law or otherwise impracticable; and
- Consult with voluntary, private sector, consensus standards bodies and, when such participation is in the public interest and is compatible with agency and departmental missions, authorities, priorities, and budget resources, shall participate in the development of technical standards.
In the United States, ASTM standards have been adopted, by incorporation or by reference, in many federal, state, and municipal government regulations.
What are ISO Standards?
The International Standards Organization (ISO) is more government driven and does not have the producers/users balance that ASTM does. Each country sends a certain number of representatives to the ISO committees. In general, each country has a single recognized national standards body, which in turn is the sole member from that country or economy in the International Standards Organization (ISO). National standards bodies usually do not prepare the technical content of the standards, which instead is developed by national technical societies. Whereas, the term national standards body (NSB) generally refers to the one-per-country standardization organization that is that country’s member of the ISO, the term standards developing organization (SDO) generally refers to the thousands of industry or sector-based standards organizations that develop and publish industry specific standards.
Therefore, ISO is an “organization of organizations.” The “participating countries” of the ISO are in fact the standardization organizations of the individual countries. In ISO, each country has one vote. The United States has one vote just like any other country, regardless of their size. The ASTM F43 Committee holds two TAGs, or Technical Advisory Groups, that participate in ISO. F43.95 is the TAG to TC232 Learning Services Outside Formal Education and F43.96 is the TAG to TC37 Terminology and Other Language Content Resources.
The newly published ASTM F2089-15 Standard Practice for Language Interpreting can be purchased for $44.00 and downloaded from http://www.astm.org/Standards/F2089.htm.
Once purchased, nothing precludes an organization from making the statement or adding to the contract language, “our organization complies or meets ASTM F2089-15 Standard Practice for Language Interpreting.”
[ix] How to know your types of standards by Richard Wilhelm. ASTM Standardization News, October 2000. http://www.astm.org/SNEWS/OCTOBER_2000/oct_howto.html
[xi] National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) http://www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-national-technology-transfer-and-advancement-act
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