In Translation, One Size Definitely Does not Fit AllTranslators and translation are not commodities.

(February 12, 2019)

Executive Summary: When you need an accurate English translation you can trust of a Japanese document, the bulk translation broker that regularly provides you with quick, cheap, and quite-rough translations of things like discovery documents is 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, which is not a given with bulk translation brokers.

Translation is not a commodity, but is sold as such by the bulk translation brokers.

Translators are not commodities either. Each has their strengths and capabilities, and the same can be said of companies selling translations. In general, entities selling Japanese-to-English translations can be classified as either true translation companies with their own translation capability and a commitment to quality and security and bulk translation brokers 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 produce something actually manufactures vehicles and can judge the quality of parts manufactured elsewhere, bulk translation brokers seldom translate anything themselves, and quite often they cannot themselves judge the quality of the translations they purchase for resale to you.

Such brokers rarely have their own ability to evaluate the translations they purchase for resale; they need to outsource even that evaluation function. For that reason, the entire process of procuring a translation for you relies on a number of acts of faith on the part of the broker.

There are good reasons to select a translation provider 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. We have verified this numerous times with discovery document translations we have seen. 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 usually another act of faith on the part of the translation broker.

Because of sub-subcontracting, having purchased a translation from yet another broker, a translation broker might themselves not know the name of the translator who produced the translations they resell to you.

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, such comfort is often based on a deception, encouraged by baseless claims made by a translation broker, with the belief on the part of the broker that you will not be able to verify their claims. If you or an assistant has been sending your documents to such places, you might give some thought to putting in a bit more effort to ensure:

  • that your documents are being translated by a specific knowable translator who understands the Japanese original properly, understands the subject matter, and can translate the document into 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 realized by many clients. Secondly, our experience is that such 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 broker that you have been dealing with. Small specialized translation companies cannot and should not compete with such places for price or speed.

But when you have documents that are important, from either a quality or security standpoint, please consider engaging with specialized Japanese-to-English translation provider that doesn't promise everything but that delivers everything they promise, which is almost always a better translation than can be purchased from a Japanese-to-English translator in China or a broker in the US that ships your documents off to translators or other brokers in China.

Emailing a translation provider with a set of pointed questions is one way to try to ascertain their abilities or lack thereof. And while you are at it, you might want to call and ask to speak to a translator. That will cause all sorts of amusing havoc and excuses.