The plethora of information in cyberspace has placed extra burdens on people seeking information and services. At a distance from consumers, it is easy for a translation seller to exaggerate or simply lie about capabilities and expect to get away with it a reasonable percentage of the time.
When the subject matter is widely understood, people who take liberties with the truth can be quickly discovered. When a non-specialist encounters narratives spun in totally unfamiliar fields, however, things get more difficult. This often happens with translation services.
Carl Sagan warned people to doubt extraordinary claims and to demand extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims. He proposed what he called a baloney-detection kit. Something of that should be useful for translation consumers as well. Here are some claims made by translation brokers that a well-tuned, sensitive translation baloneydar should pick up as being suspicious or simply deceitful.
We have 10,000 vetted translators! This is clearly nonsense. No translation company “has” anywhere near that number of translators. In fact, most translation is sold by translation brokers that “have” no translators. One translation broker, however, recently claims to have 194,000 vetted translators. Vetting even a tiny fraction of that number (or a tiny fraction of even 10,000 translators) is simply nonsense.
To start with, translation companies rarely have any more than a few translators themselves as employees, and even those translators might not work in the languages you need. As noted above, many have no translators, since they purchase and resell translations as opposed to executing translations.
The above claim is almost certain to be wrong in another way, because agencies claiming to have that many translators don’t even have the capability of vetting translators and evaluating translations themselves, these also being services that they must outsource.
We translate 150 languages! A translation seller making this claim might only rightly lay claim to undertaking to find translators of all those languages after they receive an order. Why after? Because translation sellers are not going to have or even know many translators working in that many languages.
The reality is that translation between about ten languages accounts for almost all commercial translation activity. The remaining languages are not commercially important enough to invest in human resources—or even outside contractors—to handle them.
Our linguists can handle any field of translation! This one is wrong in two ways. A claim of having linguists do your translations is simply wrong. It shows either a serious misunderstanding of what a linguist is, or a desire to inflate the title translator, which needs no inflation. Just as many translators might have taken courses in linguistics (in addition to language courses, which are totally different) but are not linguists, very few linguists are capable of meeting the needs of commercial translation. These are two completely different knowledge domains and skill sets.
In addition, claims of having translators at bay ready to translate subject matter in any field are not believable. If you doubt that claim—as you should—call the translation company and ask to speak to the translator specializing in your field. You will almost certainly not be put in touch with a subject-matter expert translator and, unless you are dealing with a small, specialized translation provider, you very likely will not be able to interact with anyone who is even a translator in the language pair you require.
We provide translations in 24 hours! There might be a grain of truth here. In fact, there might be more than a grain, but what kind of translation are we talking about? Achieving any two of the three goals of speed, quality, and low price is not that difficult or astounding; adding a third is extremely difficult and usually quite expensive.
The above are just a few examples of unbelievable claims. Similarly incredible claims are not at all rare. The key is to be vigilant and, perhaps more importantly, to actively engage with the entity you intend to purchase translations from, and remember that the low-tech telephone is an excellent tool to use in qualifying a translation vendor making extraordinary claims.