Surprises Abound. For translation consumers commissioning Japanese-to-English translation, it is usually difficult or impossible to evaluate the capabilities and business ethics of companies purporting to execute translations for you and easy to believe what they put out as their sales pitch. “Purporting” is clearly appropriate here because of a very basic reality in the translation industry: only a tiny portion of the Japanese-to-English translations purchased by translation consumers are sold by entities having any significant Japanese-to-English translation capability themselves. The way the industry works might provide some eye-openers for people in need of translation.
Bulk Translation Brokers Rarely Have any Translators to Speak Of. The typical business model of bulk translation brokers (such as the ones that contact you and your paralegals daily) is that of outsourcing almost all work. This includes not only translation, but also quality control, in the form of commissioning yet more outsiders to rescue bad translations done at extremely low rates by bad translators, these damage control people being themselves paid extremely low rates. The next time you hear a salesperson or see an ad for a translation seller claiming to have “thousands of translators worldwide,” remember that this almost always means no more than that they know the email addresses of that many translators.
Unknown Translators in Unspeakable Venues. In recent years, the major players in the bulk translation brokering industry have gone offshore to venues with cheap labor to purchase many of the Japanese-to-English translations they sell to unsuspecting clients in more advanced economies. The client is allowed to believe that the translation seller has done the translation and certainly would be shocked to discover where the client’s sensitive documents were sent to be translated. When a job or even a request for quote is received by such brokers, many initiate a frantic search on the Internet for a source of translation service, not caring much who does the job, as long as it is cheap and fast. These days, that search will often take them to China or India for Japanese-to-English translation. Unless the only goal is a cheap price, condoning this strategy by placing orders with such brokers makes little sense for the consumer, considering that very few translators in either venue are likely to have the language expertise in both English and Japanese of translators from either Japan or an advanced English-speaking venue. And it is not just language and translation expertise that is lacking; the very identity of the translator is often unknown and unknowable. Because bulk translation brokers often purchase translation from other brokers in cheap-labor venues, the brokers getting your orders often do not themselves know who is translating your documents. Again, note that these are the big translation sellers that contact you often for work. And if you need to get a translation certified, you are very likely to get a meaningless letter from an office worker at the translation broker who is not only not a translator, but more than likely knows no Japanese and could in know way attest to the quality of the translation they have sold you, beyond relying on an act of faith. This is not an imaginary phenomenon. We have seen horribly translated documents that had attached to them such meaningless certifications of accuracy. And some of them named translators who were not involved in the translation, something we were able to learn by contacting the translators whose names were misused in this manner.
The Solution? There is no quick and easy way to find a good translation provider with their own translation and quality control capability. The answer is clearly not to simply scour the Internet, which is populated generally by brokers that decorate their sites with stock photos of imaginary employees and employ the mantra of having thousands of translators whom they could never hope to have. To do that would simply be imitating the translation procurement strategy of the brokers you should be avoiding. One strategy an informed translation consumer might employ is to have a native Japanese speaker simply telephone the translation seller and ask to speak to someone in Japanese. This will cause a great deal of consternation at most translation sellers, for reasons that you can easily imagine. There are a number of things to look for in a Japanese-to-English translation provider, which will be the subject of another post coming shortly.