Sobering FactsSome unseen and rarely spoken-about realities of the translation industry

(July 16, 2022, updated April 23, 2024)

We have a FAQ page that answers questions that have actually been asked of us. Here are some additional sobering facts about the translation "industry."

These facts are known to most translators and all operators of translation companies, including true translation companies and mere translation brokers. They might come as a shock, however, to those outside the translation tent.

Most Japanese-to-English translation (and particularly translation sold outside of Japan) is sold by companies that have no translation capability themselves.

These entities, positioning themselves as translation companies, are best characterized as translation brokers and are in the business of purchasing and reselling translations.

Translation brokers almost never have any significant number of translators and sometimes no translators in their employ.

This is just the way it is with most translation companies other than small, specialized operations like Kirameki, rendering almost any larger company a translation broker rather than a true translation company. The brokers purchase translations from translators or even from other brokers and resell them to clients, which sometimes apparently think that the broker has had a material role in the execution of the translations they sell. Such actual participation in the translation process is rare.

Translation brokers claiming to have many thousands of "vetted" translators are simply lying.

It might be comforting to believe such claims, but they are incredible, in the true sense of the word.

What these claims mean at best (and even that "best" is rare) is that they know the email addresses of that many translators and perhaps have gotten them to agree to work for a rate that makes their business model succeed. At "worst" (which is probably more common) the claims are simply lies.

In recent years, Japanese-to-English translations ordered from major translation brokers in the US are often purchased from translation brokers in China.

This is an indisputable fact that we have verified numerous times. In depositions, we see discovery document that have clearly been translated from Japanese-to-English by translators in China. They are quickly identifiable as such, even though the translation broker often hides or falsifies the name of the translator. There are some characteristic errors, Shibboleths if you will, that reveal the origin, and sometimes (but it quite is rare) the broker just discloses the name of the translator in China.

More recently, rather than giving your documents to Chinese translators or other brokers in China, US brokers will attempt to execute the translations in-house, using AI, which produces an artificial translation that a hapless translator or even a non-translator will be enlisted to repair for resale.

Much has been written about the excellent English written by AI and also about the tendency for AI to hallucinate. And that does not even begin to address the issue of AI not understanding anything and not having any real-world experience. We will write more about this later.

Accuracy certification letters provided by major translation brokers are often meaningless and sometimes fraudulent.

They are often meaningless because they are very commonly signed by someone who is not the translator of the document and often by someone who is not even a translator and does not have the ability to judge the quality of a translation. We have verified this to be true.

Part of the reason for the above-noted signing by an unrelated person is that translation brokers, which usually do not add value to translations but merely broker (purchase/resell) them, cannot afford to disclose the identity of the actual translator to the client.

With regard to fraud, in doing deposition interpreting we have on more than one occasion seen a translated document presented to a deponent that had a certification letter with the name of a translator who had nothing to do with the translation. We know this because we were able to verify the fraud during the deposition by immediately emailing the purported translator while we were conducting the deposition and verifying that he had nothing to do with the translation. That translation was sold by a major US translation broker known for selling translations to law firms. The translator indicated ("They're doing it again") that the agency involved was a repeated offender, having used his name without permission in the past.

The name of the translator who created a translation you have purchased is often not known or knowable even to the translation broker who sold you the translation.

Even if the translation broker does not fear the client learning the name of the translator, if they are following the common business model that can include subcontracting to yet another broker, the broker might themselves be unable to learn the name of the translator. And if the sub-broker is in China, something very common these days, there are potential problems that extend beyond quality and accountability.

Official quality certifications of translation brokers are by their very nature not an assurance of quality.

There are several types of QA certifications, such as offered by ISO, that translation brokers sometimes boast of. As far as we can tell, none of these go beyond recognizing that the translation broker has reported to the certifying body what their administrative procedures are for translations they sell and reported that they follow their procedure. They have checked the correct boxes on the application form. The qualifications do not specify substantive metrics for translation quality, and these qualifications give assurances of nothing more than that the broker knew how to fill out the application forms correctly.

Last Fact: The above apply to most major translation sellers (particularly those in the US) and do not at all apply to Kirameki Translations, Inc. here in Japan.