Sobering Facts about the Translation "Industry"Useful but uncomfortable

(Published July 16, 2022)

This article contains facts which might be disturbing to some readers. If it does not, that is truly disturbing.

We have a FAQ (frequent asked questions) page that answers questions that have actually been asked of us. To augment the information presented on that page, we present here some sobering facts about the translation "industry."

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

These are things too outrageous for clients to ask about, but they tell of what really goes on in a major part of the business of providing translations, and in the Japanese-to-English translation sector in particular.

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

These companies, positioning themselves as translation companies, are more accurately termed translation brokers and are in the business of purchasing and reselling translations.

Translation brokers almost always have no translators or extremely few translators in their employ.

This is just the way it is with almost any translation company other than quite small, specialized operations, rendering almost any larger company a translation broker rather than a true translation company. The brokers purchase translations from translators or 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 participation in the translation process is extremely rare.

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

Believing such claims might be comforting, but the comfort is enjoyed at risk of ignoring common sense. Translation brokers do not have the ability to vet thousands of translators. Since they almost never have Japanese-to-English translators in their employ, they would need to outsource even the vetting task. They are highly unlikely to have vetted (or even to "have") thousands of translators.

Japanese-to-English translations ordered from major translation brokers in the US will very often be done in China.

This is an indisputable fact that we have verified numerous times. In depositions, we often see discovery document that have been translated from Japanese-to-English by translators in China. They are quickly identifiable as such. Sometimes the translation broker will hide or falsify the name of the translator.

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. This is undeniable and understood by people in the translation business.

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 the identity of the translator to be known to the client.

With regard to fraud, we do deposition interpreting and have on more than one occasion seen a translated document used that had a certification letter with the name of a translator who had nothing to do with the translation. In one case the translator purportedly be attributed had no knowledge that their identity was being stolen to create a fraudulent translation certification. On one occasion we were able to verify the fraud by emailing the translator while we were conducting the deposition. That translation was from a major US translation broker known for selling to law firms.

The name of the translator who created a translation you have purchased is often not known or knowable to a 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 of 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 QC certifications of translation brokers are by their very nature not an assurance of quality.

There are several types of quality assurance certifications that translation brokers 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. The qualifications do not specify metrics for translation quality and the qualifications give assurances of nothing but that the broker filled out the application forms correctly.

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

We hope that this is neither surprising nor disturbing.