Risks in Selecting a Japanese-to-English Translation ServiceThe risks are considerable, but avoidable with a bit of foreknowledge about the translation process.

Executive Summary: The Internet jungle is a difficult place to hunt for a capable Japanese-to-English translation provider. Vigilance and a healthy degree of suspicion are warranted. Although the development of the Internet overcame the physical distances between translation consumers and translation providers, it has also made it difficult to establish true capabilities, identities, and locations, often leading to situations with little accountability and recourse for a client after making a wrong choice.

The Internet places a vast amount of information at your fingertips but has greatly increased the burden on the average Internet user attempting to find some wheat in the piles of easily available chaff. Probably the most serious reason for this situation is the lack of accountability and difficulty in judging the value of information. Attempts to find a good Japanese-to-English translation service via the Internet are hampered by the same problems and require some of the same skills that are needed in trying to find trustworthy content about other matters.

The Internet: Lowering the bar for entry of translation sellers, while raising the bar for people looking for translation services

Before the Internet, entities interested in going into the translation business pretty much needed to have bricks and mortar and a verifiable identity to demonstrate that they were real or trustworthy. Individuals, real companies, and DBAs had a harder time hiding their true identity or location. The Internet has changed all that.

Anyone with an Internet connection can present themselves or their company (or what purports to be a company) as a provider of translation services. Although imposters will often be unmasked at some point, the bar to entry into the translation field has undeniably been lowered. The features of the Internet that enable such easy entry into translation include the following:

  • Ease of hiding a true identity by exploiting an anonymous website, often by registering a domain with a proxy that hides the domain owner's identity.
  • Elimination of the need to reveal a physical address and lowering of expectations of disclosure of same by clients. Since all transactions are expected to be possible by email, the translation provider does not run the risk of a potential client discovering that the owner of an attractive internet website is actually no more than a kitchen tabletop operation consisting of one person—often not a translator—and a computer.
  • With everything done by email or web-based contact forms, there is little risk of having a potential client realize that what lies behind the curtain of a nicely executed website design is not a translation provider with translation ability, but rather just a translation broker (purchaser/reseller).
  • Wild claims of being able to handle hundreds of languages and any subject-matter field can be made with little risk of being asked to demonstrate the validity of those claims.

For translation market entries wishing to build the appearance of having bricks and mortar, there is also the option of renting an essentially fake address from a provider of virtual office space. There are countless companies providing virtual office space that is nothing more than a postal mailing address, and substanceless translation brokers and other shady operators are power users of such mail-drop services. They are not where they say they are, but can almost always correctly assume that nobody will ever pop by the visit.

What can a translation consumer do to increase the chance of selecting a capable Japanese-to-English provider?

Armed with a bit of knowledge as to what a substanceless translation broker can do to “pump up” their online presence, there are a number of precautions that can make it easier to select a translation provider that actually does Japanese/English translations of the quality you need. Here are some simple dos and don’ts to act as a guide in your search for a capable Japanese-to-English translation provider.

Don't use a translation provider that fails to disclose its physical address or telephone number on their website.

Some people use a website to hide their actual location, and many times they are doing that for a reason that would not reflect well on them, including things that would discourage clients from using them for translation services.

Don't use a translation provider claiming to translate 100 or more languages.

As a commercial translation activity, 100 or more languages are not that important. Almost all texts which clients are willing to pay money to translate are written in one of fewer than ten languages. And people needing Japanese-to-English translation should remember that boasting of being able to handle 200 languages give no assurance that a purported translation company can do Japanese-to-English translation to the quality that is required.

Don't use a translation provider that claims to "have" thousands of translators.

Of all the entities purporting to do translation, only a tiny number actually "have" any Japanese-to-English translators in their employ. The ones that do have such translators are almost always quite small entities that are operated by translators. Upon receiving an order for Japanese-to-English translation, almost all translation brokers, not having any Japanese-to-English translators themselves, need to scramble to find a translator from whom to purchase a translation for resale.

Recently, such searches for translators by companies purporting to do Japanese-to-English translation themselves will result in your documents being sent to venues where very close to all the translators are third-language translators, who speak neither English or Japanese as their native language but are translating between those two (to them) foreign languages. The most common Japanese-to-English translation outsourcing destination of late is China. The results are of predictable quality and, of course, there are concerns with security and accountability.

Don't use a translation provider that claims expertise in every imaginable subject matter field.

This should not need amplification, but non-translator readers might think about how many fields they themselves are experts in. Although almost no translation companies of any substantial size actually "have" translators as employees, even when they do, those translators—even taken collectively—are not "experts in any field." And since most translation companies are brokers (purchasers and resellers) of translation rather than true translation companies, because they have no translators themselves, they would need to be able to find translation practitioners (translators) who are experts in all the fields in which they claim expertise and then would need to be capable of judging whether their choice of translator was correct. Such judgment capabilities are simply not to be found with bulk translation brokers.

Don't use a translation provider claiming ostensible physical addresses in a suspiciously high number of locations, particularly if only a telephone number is provided for each, and definitely if they boast a physical address but no telephone number.

The translation brokers that fake presences in multiple locations—similar to the large translation brokers with actual offices—are precisely the ones that have no translators and no translation ability themselves. They are no more than translation brokers.

What is most likely going on with many places that claim multiple locations is that they are paying a tiny amount of money each month to maintain a postal mail drop and purported address in those locations, and sometimes paying for telephone answering or telephone forwarding services. If they are using an individual for the ruse, they could have a single person tasked with answering the phone, but that is not very comforting. If there are no telephone numbers associated with the addresses, you can be quite sure that there is no substance behind the addresses, save for perhaps a virtual office company selling the services to the purported translation provider.

Don't use translation provider that cannot identify any individuals associated with their company or its management.

Even a translation broker (purchaser-reseller) has to have people do the work, albeit it might be only purchasing and reselling translations. If there are no named people disclosed, extreme care is required, as there might be only one person, and that person might not want to be known or contacted.

What are the Dos?

Here are some suggestions for people (especially people outside Japan) looking for Japanese/English translation services and needing high quality.

  • Seek out smaller translation providers. They are much more likely to have actual translators and translation knowledge/ability than a large bulk translation broker.
  • Seek out translation providers that identify their management and/or translators. This will increase your chances of dealing with actual translators, as opposed to purchasers and resellers of translation.
  • Seek out translation providers that disclose their actual physical location. This will help you avoid dealing with kitchen tabletop translation brokers.
  • If you have doubts, use your telephone. A true translation provider you should be using will answer the phone and the person answering the phone should be able to speak to you about your specific translation requirements.

There are no free lunches for people needing Japanese/English translation.

Although the above suggestions might seem troublesome, they underline the reality that the Internet does not present you with a free lunch. In fact, it offers lots of not very good meals, and it is up to the diner to select the one that satisfies.