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In Japanese-to-English Translation, One Size Definitely Does Not Fit All
(Published February 12, 2019; last edited March 8, 2021)
Executive Summary: When you need an accurate English translation of a Japanese document you can trust, the bulk translation broker-agencies that regularly provide you with quick, cheap, and quite rough translations of things like discovery documents are probably not the place to go. You need more specialization and, more than that, you need a translation company that actually has translators and translation capability.
Translation is not a commodity but is sold as such by the bulk translation brokers.
Translators have different capabilities, and the same can be said of companies selling translations. In general, entities selling Japanese-to-English translations can be classified into true translation companies with their own translation capability and a commitment to quality and security and bulk translation broker-agencies that, upon receiving an order for a Japanese-to-English translation, seek out a translator (or in some cases another translation broker) from which to purchase a translation for resale to you. Unlike fields such as automotive manufacturing, in which the entity purporting to create something actually does the manufacturing, bulk translation brokers seldom translate anything, nor can they judge the quality of the products they purchase for resale.
Such brokers almost never have their own ability to evaluate the translations they purchase for resale; they need to purchase even that function, and the entire process of procuring a translation for you rests on a number of acts of faith on the part of the broker.
There are reasons to select a translation source based on individual translation requirements.
Bulk translation brokers in the US these days commonly send your Japanese documents to China to be translated from Japanese to English. This does not bode well for the quality of the translations you will be sold, as discussed in an article on third-language translators. And if you ask the bulk translation broker to provide a certification of translation accuracy, you should remember that, as we have seen numerous times with Japanese-to-English translated documents used in depositions, there is no reason to expect that a document with a certification of accuracy will be any better quality because of an attached letter of certification. The letter is a mere formality and is yet another act of faith on the part of the translation broker.
Informed selection of a translation provider is the answer, and that generally requires active engagement.
The telephone or email can be your friend.
Although the ability to simply toss your documents to a translation broker with the expectation of quality translations coming back might be comforting, it is often no more than a delusion, encouraged by baseless claims made by the translation provider. If you or your assistant have been doing just that, you might give some thought to putting in a bit more effort to ensure:
- that your documents are being translated by someone who can understand the Japanese original properly and write understandable English, and
- that your documents are not going to be sent to a place in which security is an additional problem.
The large bulk translation brokers that serve, for example, law firms in the US can resolve neither of the above-noted concerns. Firstly, almost none of them have any translators in their employ. This is widely known in the translation business, but apparently not widely realized by clients. Secondly, our experience is that brokers will indiscriminately and without notice to their customers send customer documents to places like China.
If you have 500 pages of Japanese documents you need translated in one week and don’t mind the quality and security risks, by all means send them to that bulk translation seller that you have been dealing with. Small specialized translation companies cannot and do not want to compete with such places.
But when you have documents that are important, from either a quality or security standpoint, please consider engaging with specialized Japanese-to-English translation providers that don’t promise everything but do deliver what they promise, which is almost always a better translation than can be purchased from a Japanese-to-English translator in China, and without the security concerns. Emailing a translation provider with a set of pointed questions can be an effective way to ascertain their abilities or lack thereof. And while you are at it, ask to speak to a translator.