True Translation Companies and Translation BrokersThe difference greatly affects what they provide.

(March 7, 2021; updated April 25, 2024)

The translation business abounds with entities purporting to be translation companies, but which are actually just translation brokers that purchase and resell translations, often with not much value added in the process, and often with little ability to ensure (or even evaluate) the quality of the translations they purchase and resell.

The credulity of clients who believe the hype fed to them by translation brokers will often be appropriately rewarded, but there are a number of ways to distinguish the two types of players in the translation business. There are some salient differences.

Specific Comparisons Highlight the Differences

Let us look at the specific differences between true translation companies and those that only purchase and resell translations.

In-House Translation Capability

True Translation CompaniesTranslation Brokers
  • In-house translators as employees
  • Capable of both executing translations and handling questions
  • Usually very little in-house translation capability

Project Management

True Translation CompaniesTranslation Brokers
  • Orders handled end-to-end by personnel (usually translators themselves) capable in the relevant languages and the subject matter.

Project managers:

  • are generally no more than traffic controllers
  • seldom having any language skills
  • sometimes cannot even identify the language of a document.

Language Specialization

True Translation CompaniesTranslation Brokers
  • Specialized in a small set of language pairs, and the best translation companies specialize in a single language pair.
  • Many claim to handle from any language into any language.
  • Very few can ensure quality in most of those languages.

Field-specific Knowledge

True Translation CompaniesTranslation Brokers
  • Take on work only in fields in which they are confident of being able to ensure quality.
  • In-house knowledge of the subject matter being translated
  • Most simply rely on the subject-specific knowledge of their outside translators or subcontractors.

Translation certifications and translator declarations

True Translation CompaniesTranslation Brokers
  • Certification or a declaration by a known and identifiable translator
  • A non-translator employee is often the signer, and the brokers are often reluctant to reveal the name of the actual translator. Some have been known to falsify the name of the translator.
  • Certification letters are often just signed by a non-translator administrative employees of the broker.
  • The person signing a certifying letter is most often unqualified to judge the quality of the translation being certified, beyond engaging in an act of faith.

What Are the Risks Involved in Using Brokers?

For unwary clients, and particularly clients who are not able to judge the quality of a translation themselves, the use of translation brokers is risky. Some of the obvious risks:

  • Lack of translator accountability
  • Lack of trustworthy information about the qualifications of the translator
  • No assurance that the same translator will be available for future work
  • No ability to interact with the translator

Weeding out the Brokers


A healthy bit of skepticism can go a long way in revealing brokers for what they are. Claims of translating "all languages into all languages" and of having thousands of translators should light should sound an alarm.

Looking Behind the Curtain

Try calling the translation provider and asking the project manager for the name of their in-house person in some particular language, since you might want to call them to ask questions. This should create quite a bit of anxiety, backpedaling on claims, and excuses, and can be useful in revealing the emptiness of translation broker claims.

Breaking Through the Internet Shield

Many brokers use the Internet and email as shields from such invasive challenges of their actual capabilities, and, in a phone conversation, few are able to handle the languages they translate. They are, after all, translation brokers, not translation companies with in-house capability.

The New Challenges Presented by the Replacement of Professional Translators with AI

Many translation brokers are shifting to a business model in which professional translators are replaced by AI in the translation process, with the expectation that a post-editor will be able to bring the AI's artificial translation up to a usable level of quality.

There are additional risks involved in this process, not the least of which is the use, unbeknownst to clients, of post-editors who are not qualified to be correcting someone (or something) else's translation. We have written elsewhere about the associated problems and about our position and reasons for not using AI in translating client documents.