Posted by: patenttranslator | January 16, 2012

Are Translation Agencies Really LSPs (Language Service Providers) or LSRs (Language Services Resellers)?

I noticed this strange acronym (LSP) for the first time about two years ago when I started reading blogs about translation. Although I have been a freelance translator since 1987, as a relative newcomer to the blogosphere I did not know what this strange thing meant.

As I wrote already in another post, “when [in September of 2011] I Googled LSP,  I got back a lot of interesting suggestions, such as Louisiana State Police, Latino Studies Program, Liskov Substitution Principle, Landowner Stewardship Program, Legal Services Program, Life Sciences Partner, Label Switched Path … even Lunar Soil Propellant, but nowhere in the first 10 (TEN!) pages of helpful suggestions from Google was I able to discover that LSP can also mean a Language Service Provider.”

The acronym seems to be very popular among translators, most of them like talking in acronyms like LSP and PM (project manager) in comments on blogs, possibly because they are typing on an iPad (which is not really an abbreviation, is it?), while the general public, namely non-translators, also known among translators as “civilians”, have absolutely no idea what this acronym means.

Chris Durban, a financial translator from French based in Paris, explained the origin of these three letters in a comment to a post on my blog here, and also in this explanation in a comment to a post by Jill from Musings of an Overworked Translator in which Chris said among other things this:

The background that I am aware of is as follows: when EUATC, the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies, first floated the idea of a pan-European quality standard for the translation industry (in 2002?), their draft referred explicitly to “translation agencies/companies” as the (sole) parties on the supply side.

So when professional associations of  *translators* got involved (including SFT in France, very ably represented by Jackie Reuss), our reps made the point that if the European standard excluded freelancers from the git-go there was a very real possibility that buyers complying with it would not be able to buy from freelancers. Literally not be able to use them, because the standard referred to “agencies”.

As a result, “agency/company” was changed to LSP, which explicitly covers both freelance suppliers of translation services and companies/agencies supplying same.

I personally don’t like this acronym. First of all, it makes no sense to me to keep using an acronym that is understood only by people who work in the translation industry, i.e. translators and agencies. Since the abbreviation is already 10 years old, one should be able to find easily an explanation of what it means if you Google it. But you will probably only find an explanation of this acronym if you read what bloggers say on their translation blogs.

The second and more important reason why I don’t like this abbreviation is that I think that it is misleading.

Although the abbreviation LSP might have been originally designed to include both translation agencies and translators in the term, it is now used, both by translators and by agencies, only to describe a translation agency. If a translator says about herself “I am also an LSP”, she does not mean that she is also a translator, she means that she is a translator who also functions as a translation agency because the term LSP is now synonymous with the term translation agency.

Many translators operate their businesses like this, including this one. I am both a translator and a translation agency, as I generated about 30 percent of my income last year by buying translations from other translators and then reselling them at a substantial profit to my customers, mostly patent law firms.

So I am definitely also a translation agency, and it is possible, perhaps even likely, that I will be functioning more as an agency than as a translator at some point. I hasten to add that I am not looking forward to that day, if it ever comes, because I am one of those weird people who like being a translator.

On the other hand, the truth is that I am getting lazier and lazier, and I must say that it is kind of nice when most of the work is done for me by other people and all I have to do is proofread it and prepare an invoice. Although I have to pay the translator, of course, often well before I am paid myself, which is the part that I don’t like … but what can you do.

I am only guessing here, but I think that the term LSP was probably designed partly to hide from public’s prying eyes the fact that translation agency is just an agency, a broker, a middleman. An agency is not a provider of translation services, the services are provided by translators, although some agencies add as resellers a useful service to a service that was originally provided by a translator, for instance in my case if they know how to proofread a Japanese patent (which based on my experience is almost never the case).

Stores like Best Buy that sell big TVs and small iPods purchase electronic gadgets like TVs and iPods from manufacturers of these products and then sell them them to direct customers. As far as I know, these stores are called “resellers”, not providers of TVs and iPods.

Translation agencies purchase translations from translators and then sell them to direct clients. Ergo, translation agencies are not the providers of translation services either, they are also resellers of translations that were already sold once to them by the translators.

Perhaps a more honest abbreviation for a translation agency would be an LSR – Language Service Reseller, and the abbreviation LSP should be reserved only for translators who actually provide the translation service, which is often, but not always, sold first to an agency, and then resold by the agency to a direct client.

But this is obviously not going to happen, and even if it did, the chances are that only people who actually work in the industry would understand what these abbreviations mean. This would also in a way complicate things even more since as I noted above, some LSPs would be also LSRs, for example this mad patent translator.

It would make much more sense to me to start calling a spade a spade, an agency an agency, and a translator a translator. But this is even less likely to happen than that a new abbreviation, LSR, will be introduced to confuse “civilians” even more.

Because once people start throwing around silly new abbreviations and acronyms, for some reason they never stop doing that, even if very few people understand what these new shiny things really mean.


  1. The FBI used to call its wiretap monitors/translators/sometimes interpreters LS’s, for Language Specialist, which has now been changed to the even more ridiculous LA’s, or Language Analysts. Neither is accurate, especially the latter, because it is virtually impossible to ascertain what those individuals analyze. Additionally, they are not always and, indeed, often not even competent. So are they then ILA’s? Why do we even need these acronyms?

    The receptionist of an agency I used to work for would often use LOL in correspondence, which turned out to be Little Old Lady. Just as I thought I had learned something, it turned into Laugh Out Loud. So much for keeping up.


  2. Some acronyms I like because they are short, useful and funny, like LOL, OMG, WTF? and, of course, my all time favorite: FUBAR.

    But LSP is IMHO a seriously flawed acronym, which is why I already wrote two posts about it.


  3. I’m not so sure if the explanation for the origin of the acronym is right. I am certain that in localisation we were already talking about SLVs (Single Language Vendors, which were agencies working into just one target language, not freelance translators) and MLVs (Multi Language Vendors) in about 1995. The latter are now commonly referred to as LSPs. The acronym may not be clear to people outside the profession, but it doesn’t hav to be. I don’t understand everything my dentist says to his assistant either. As long as he explains anything relevant in layman’s terms to me, I don’t care. Fact is that true LSPs do much more than just ‘resell translations’, so it does make sense to call them something else than just ‘translation agencies’.
    I’ve never heard or seen LSP used to refer to a freelance translator, though…


  4. Thank you for your comment.
    I did not know these acronyms at all.

    However, it may not always be such a good idea to keep patients ignorant about what dentists or doctors are saying to their assistants.

    At least here in America, doctors have been known to amputate by mistake the left leg instead of the right one, or to forget scissors after a surgery in the patient, etc. Minor errors like that are easier to prevent when everybody can understand what is being said.

    As to agencies who do much more than resell translations, I certainly hope that agencies only proofread my translations to find and fix typos, if any, before they resell them, because I don’t want them to mess up my translations.


  5. Ellen, I’m intrigued. For I am definitely an SLV (always tick that box on the (rare) questionnaires that come my way and have that option) and very definitely an LSP.
    Now I learn I may have been leading my (US) survey-result-compilers down the garden path. Oh dear.
    As Steve has pointed out (I think), I am a freelance translator, working from French to English, almost exclusively for direct clients.
    I’m curious why you think my explanation of the origin of *LSP* (some say *TSP* btw) might be inaccurate. I’m speaking from personal experience, and/but would be happy to try to haul the very competent Jackie Reuss into this discussion. (No guarantee, but I did discuss this with her on the phone before responding to Steve’s blog first time around.)
    Steve, if the aim of these exchanges is to castigate translation agencies/companies as “Bad”, you can count me out, of course. If you yourself are feeling uneasy about subcontracting work out, hey, buddy, that’s your problem :-).
    Far more interesting, IMO (!!), are comments like Robin Bonthrone’s recent ones — about *specialized* translators and translation intermediaries (ha!) having a lot more in common than bulk providers of any sort, be they freelance or agency/company/intermediary. (I’m keeping “generalist” as an entirely different category, thinking of minority languages and the very different market profiles they deal with; I’ve already mentioned the SFT guy who works from Greek to Thai, right? A specialization in and of itself).
    And, as I think Steve may be hinting, it’s always edifying for all of us to reflect on the fact that real clients, real direct clients (not intermediaries, especially not those actively involved in slicing & dicing, serving up bulk in vacuum-packed, reheatable format) don’t use acronyms of this sort at all.


    • “Steve, if the aim of these exchanges is to castigate translation agencies/companies as “Bad”, you can count me out, of course. If you yourself are feeling uneasy about subcontracting work out, hey, buddy, that’s your problem”.

      Thanks for your comment, Chris.

      Some agencies are bad and some are good. I myself am both a translator and an agency and my clients (patent law firms) are well aware of my dual role. My impression is that they don’t care about what I call myself. They only care about the quality of the translation.

      I feel uneasy about the situation in Persian Gulf, but definitely not about being a translator and an agency. Given that I have been translating patents for 25 years, I think I do a much better job as a highly specialized agency than 99% of generic translation agencies.

      The main purpose of this particular post was to point out that the acronym LSP is IMHO in fact misleading, and that it would be more accurate to call pure agencies (outfits that are not run by translators) LSRs as in Language Service Resellers.

      And of course to have some fun too.


      • I’m enjoying the fun part, too.


    • @Chris: I’m just talking from my own 20-year experience, having worked for a large end-client, for a medium-sized MLV and as a freelance translator. I knew and used the acronyms SLV, MLV and LSP long before the meeting you mention, so I doubt that the acronym LSP was coined there. They may have used the existing acronym and expanded its meaning, though.
      And while I can certainly see the need for a term covering all translation providers in legal documents, I think that in day-to-day reality we should be more distinctive. I am not an agency, I am a translator. Even if I start outsourcing work to other translators to be able to provide more languages, I might call myself an agency, but not an LSP. In my experience, LSPs are agencies that take on large, complex translation projects and do more than outsource the translation and proofreading. Paul explains that below, and I can think of even more services an LSP might provide.

      So let us be freelance translators, independent translators, owners of our own translation agencies. But not LSPs…


      • Hi Ellen, sorry, I understood from your initial post that you’d heard only of SLVs and MLVs before (in 1995). I gather now that you heard LSP then, too, which is fine with me.
        As stated earlier, I first heard it… oh well, read what Steve wrote. 🙂 Those negotiations lasted about 2.5 years, incidentally, so the issue (and the very real economic stakes) were an ongoing concern for European professional associations at the time.
        Moving right along, I have great admiration for companies able to coordinate big, multilingual projects, which I, as an SLV and LSP cannot do. (More on that in a minute (Paul, I’m getting to you :-)).
        But I’m starting to wonder if some of what appears to be disagreement on terminology here might not simply be a US take on the market? Nothing wrong with that, either.
        Again, I’m willing to bet that the non-bulk client end of the market isn’t familiar with these acronyms, which is why I’m not overly concerned. But I’m really surprised to read that (in the US?) even the owner of a translation agency wouldn’t consider him/herself an LSP. That’s very interesting. Maybe even healthy, from Steve’s point of view!


  6. Dear Steve, I do so much appreciate your insightful blog – I am a great fan! However, you have a poor opinion of LSPs – one which I believe is not always warranted. I do not doubt that there are many “language resellers” in the industry (just as you describe them) who add little (if any) value to the work they pass on to their clients. However, there are many translation companies which do not sit easily with your description.

    My company employs translators, revisers, graphic artists, computer programmers and project managers – all dedicated to the somewhat difficult and poorly-understood language profession. My company would most certainly not only proofread translation work from or into Japanese or Chinese (patents or otherwise), but an in-house reviser (editor) would critique (peer-review) the translation, discuss difficult points with the translator, and make suggestions for improvement if required. The translation would not go out until both the translator and the editor had jointly resolved any problems and were both sure that they had produced the best possible work. Such professional collaboration between translator and editor is a requirement of the European Translation Standard EN 15038 which we work hard to stick to. Usually the translator and the editor form a team where each language of the pair is represented by a native speaker – the translator a native speaker of the target and the editor a native of the source language.

    I think the guys in our office might feel a bit aggrieved to be called simple “resellers”. The editors have done the hard yards as translators themselves starting their careers in the early 1980s. They have a lifetime’s professional experience to pass on to the younger ones – which as you rightly pointed out in a recent blog, seem to improve with age.
    Best wishes
    Paul (@PaulEdgar1)


    • @Paul: I enjoyed reading your company’s blog; very interesting — although your proposed star system leaves out the guys that (I assume) Steve suggests calling LSRs. Which is maybe as it should be!
      I was also interested that you cited EN 15038.
      I’m not a big fan of standards, since in my experience they are often waved around as a guarantee of quality of *product* to largely ignorant and often monolingual clients (you mention this in passing and I think you are absolutely right). This when most are simply checklists for quality in processes. But I was happy to work on ATA’s “Buying a non-commodity” brochure because hey, checklists are better than no checklists.
      One of several positive points with EN 15038 is that “even” freelancers can work to it, and I think that has a lot of scope for raising quality in general. E.g., in my specialized field (where in-depth knowledge of a technical subject plus style & flow are very important), I apply the four-eyes review business, and link up with other specialized translators in overlapping fields to work on certain types of jobs. I buy in tech services as I need them, etc. (I also sign a lot of my work, which is, to my mind, the most important single step in shaking out the market in a positive way).
      Aside from that, I can identify with your team feeling aggrieved if a “reseller” label is slapped on them; a similar thing happens to me when somebody tries to throw his/her/its weight around by coming on in an overbearing or condescending way once I tell them the size (in people) of my business. And that’s where I think Robin’s point about specialization is very well taken.


      • @Chris: From your and Steve’s description, the approach you take is entirely consistent with EN 15038 IMHO (selecting the right translator in the first place, a presumption that any reviser has something of value to contribute – a greater competence in either translation experience or subject knoweledge than the translator. Like all attempts to regulate human affairs, I think that no rules can ever deal adequately with the exceptions. EN 15038 doesn’t allow for the possibility that the translator might just be the best possible available expert or that no editor with greater competence can be found. But I can live with these imperfections because the I see the merits of this standard (or any other) as aspirational – defining ways to approach better outcomes. There aren’t enough Chris Durbans and Steve Viteks to get the world’s translation work done – so some aspirational guidelines (however imperfect) of what we’re aiming to achieve are important for the rest of us.

        The principles of the standards will surely be abused (just as you describe), they will be misinterpreted and circumvented and many will try to follow the principles but fail to achieve the desired outcomes. But despite this, the very act of setting such goals, I believe, has great merit.

        PS – My star system woudn’t leave out the LSRs (they too have their role to play in the greater scheme of things) – but many would just have a low star rating. Of course a smart “reseller”, who has a committment to only using top performers, would be rated higher. How that might be implemented is perhaps a topic for another day… 🙂


  7. Hear hear, Paul. To automatically assume that all LSP’s are resellers is egregious. Resellers take what someone else does and turn around & sell it at a higher price without any modification. Now, while I’m sure there are mom & pops all over the world doing that, none of the real LSP’s do. Though it varies in degree, we all have some sort of quality control process.

    And as far as Chris checking the SLV box just because she translates, well, all she’s doing is messing up survey results for the rest of us. It’s one thing to be stubborn to make a point. It’s entirely another to miss a survey writer’s true meaning, especially when you work in a profession where true meaning is vital. Maybe LSP used to mean translators, too. I don’t know. I wasn’t at the meeting Chris often talks about where this was decided. But I do know what it means now: A business that oversees and sells translations that are regularly performed by more than one party. To continue arguing that LSP in today’s construct includes individual translators who do not do this is like yelling at the top of your lungs that “gay” still means “happy.”


    • I feel that somebody needs to defend resellers here.

      Resellers like Best Buy provide many very useful services, they don’t just turn around and sell stuff.

      When I bought a new iPhone for me and my son for Christmas, the guy at Best Buy had to spend about an hour to move my number from T-Mobile to Verizon and explain all kinds of things to me that I did not understand.

      If I have a problem with something that I buy at a reseller such as Best Buy, I can take my computer to them and they will fix it, albeit for a fee if it is out of warranty.

      They also have this service called Geek Squad, geeks who will come to your house in a PT Cruiser and fix things for you if you are a dumb user who has a major problem.

      I am just saying that they are called resellers because they mostly resell things. And I am also saying that it would be more accurate to call translation agencies resellers rather than providers, not that being a reseller is necessarily a bad thing.


  8. Dear Paul:

    First of all, thank you for your comment and for your retweets of my posts!

    Perhaps the method you describe in your comment works in some translation fields, but I don’t think that it would work in the field of patent translation.

    I don’t believe that one can design a standard method that would ensure high translation quality by requiring that several layers of highly qualified translators and editors work each and every time on a single translation, although it is definitely an excellent advertising gimmick to claim that this is a method that agencies are using, of course.

    For one thing, how much would a translation cost if you had to pay 3 guys or girls who know about patent translation as much as I do every time when you have a patent that needs to be translated? I think that most of these agency editors are usually relatively inexpensive and thus also inexperienced people who also work as coordinators, etc.

    But even if the cost were no object, it would not work in my field and probably in many other fields either, such as financial translation, translation of novels, etc.

    Just like any other professional workers, translators too have their pride. If you mess with them, namely if you try to change their translations, the good ones will stop working for you.

    The most important decision in my opinion, the decision that will in fact determine the quality of the translation, is the selection of the translator.

    If you pick a really good translator, usually because he or she has many years or decades of experience, the translation is likely to be very good and thus there is no need to change anything. That is what I try to do when I am choosing a translator, and all I have to do then is look for typos and omissions and fix them if I find any. I don’t need to bother the translator with stupid questions about anything.

    If I have to do more than fixing typos, it means that I picked the wrong person for the job and that I need to find a different translator for the next job.

    If I worked for your company and your editors kept asking me to confirm their editing changes, I would stop working for you because I don’t like to be bothered by editors of my work who don’t know as much as I do about the field of patent translation. If they knew more about the field than I do, why would they need to ask me any questions?

    I don’t ask translators who work for me whether they are OK with the changes that I a make. I don’t make many changes, but when I do, I know what I’m doing.

    The truth is that I have never been asked (in 25 years) by an agency’s translation editor about a meaningful change in my translation, because these editors are almost always CKs (my suggested acronym for Clueless Kids). They do sometime ask me about typos or omissions, of course, because everybody makes mistakes like that. And every now and then patent lawyers ask me about the terms that I use, of course, but that would be a different story.

    So that is what I think about that. Incidentally, I bought my house from a local real estate agent by the name of Geoffrey who is from New Zealand, partly because I like people who speak English with a funny accent. In America, this can still be a competitive advantage!

    I wrote an article years ago on this subject for the ATA Chronicle which is posted also on my blog here if you want to read it:


    • @Steve: I think that the difference your and my experience basically lies in the fact that you translate patents, and I started out in software localization. In localization, projects sometimes involve hundreds of thousands of words of online Help (for a new version of Microsoft Office, for example), that need to be translated within a few months. More often than not, an LSP will have multiple translators working on a project like that at the same time. Most translators don’t want to dedicate their time exclusively to one client for months on end, so during the project, you may have 10 or 15 different translators. There is no way you can avoid inconsistencies. That’s where the LSP’s editors come in. They may not make meaningful changes, in fact, you might call their changes preferential, but they are necessary.

      Also, there are always last-minute changes in software terminology, last-minute updates to the online Help and other changes. Usually it’s the LSP’s inhouse translators or editors that carry out those tasks.

      Oh, and then there’s the issue of multiple languages. Imagine you want to have all those words translated into ten or more languages, and that you have ten or more translators for each of those languages asking you the same questions… LSPs take that hassle away from their clients as well – another language-related service.

      I have no experience at all translating patents or anything even remotely similar, so I may be wrong, but I would imagine that the processes in your field are different…


  9. Ellen:

    Your point is well taken.

    Your field is very different from mine and I think that agencies in your particular field do add a lot of value to the original translation.

    But I believe that in my field you really need one person to be in charge of the entire job – the translator. The translation still must be proofread, but as little should be changed as possible.

    If the translator is asked to provide expert opinion in court to defend a certain term or formulation, he must be able to say “Yest, I think that this is the correct term, and here is why I used it.

    ” If he says:”Well, I originally called the widget “abcd”, but an editor at the translation agency called it “abdc” and I am not really sure which is more correct”, he has just invalidated a key piece of evidence in a lawsuit over patent rights that may worth a lot of money.


  10. Steve, isn’t part of your argument that (perhaps to comply with standards *requiring* revision by a second person) many translation companies get the revision done by junior folks who (1) don’t know that much about the field and (2) haven’t been briefed properly about whatever it is they are supposed to be doing? Sometimes this superficial and indeed dangerous “revision” comes from the fact that they’ve bid too low to be able to afford a qualified editor or reviser.


  11. Chris:

    Absolutely. Proofreading by a second person is valuable only if the second person is at least as good and experienced as the original translator, which I think is almost never the case in my field, except when the first person was an inexpensive beginner.

    Many agencies try to have a patent translated on the cheap first and then have it proofread by somebody with experience for peanuts.

    This is not a bad method provided that:

    1) You can find a beginner who is not that bad and really talented (as I was 25 years ago, I hope), and

    2) You can find an experienced pro who will fix problems.

    Because it is usually more difficult to meet condition 2) than condition 1) (there are quite a few young, still inexperienced but talented people out there who are not very expensive, but old dogs like me don’t work for peanuts), what often happens is that both the translator and the proofreader are inexperienced, in which case the result may vary.

    That is why I place the emphasis on the selection of the right translator for the job. Once you have the right person, all you have to do is look for typos, wrong numbers, etc., and just about anybody can do that.

    It may work differently in other translation fields, but I do believe that this is how it works in my field.


  12. Dear Steve – I enjoyed reading your piece on “Is Technical Translation Really a Collaborative Activity?”. As your experience has been pretty much in parallel with my own, my conclusions are rather the same as yours – not surprising really, given that the very nature of the task teaches us such things.

    By no means do I think that the collaborative approach we use in our company is the only useful model to get translations done. The variety of translation work is so hugely diverse that it makes sense that different models are more appropriate for different tasks. A single language job on a technical subject may often by better handled by a Steve Vitek than a big agency, while a multi-language with lots of complex files needs a bigger team with a variety of different skills. There are also plenty of lesser jobs where it would be a waste of scarce resources to use a Steve Vitek for the task.

    As I see it, there is an appropriate place in the profession for all the diverse skills, work practices and organisations – students, solo freelancers, subject experts, resellers, single or multi-language agencies – large and small.

    Diversity creates its own problems: translation buyers are frequently unable to understand the nature of their own needs, and are unable to match them with an appropriate translator or specialist organisation. Thus the market is irrational – professional providers have a deep understanding of what is at stake, but customers are typically unable to comprehend this complexity and often cannot make a rational selection. We all look pretty much the same to many buyers. Oftentimes there is no other yardstick other than price to make a decision – frequently the wrong one. Finding solutions to this intractable problem is the topic I deal with most frequently in my own blog.

    I have always considered the term “LSP” as the American version of the European English “TSP” (translation service provider) given that the term TSP is enshrined in the British version of the EN 15038 standard. The term is defined as “person or organisation supplying translation services”. While the definition admits of individual translators, it is clear that the standard in fact discriminates against them. (I must admit that I’ve never actually heard anyone using the term “TSP” in real life… LSP however has wide currency, I think.)

    A last comment on the role of “collaborative” translation and LSPs: I appreciate (and have often observed) the destructive effects of multiple layers of “revision”. As I see it, revision is just as much an art which requires skill, sensitivity – and a great deal of experience if it is to be useful. I am conscious of the important role older translators can play as mentors or coaches. I entered the profession in 1980 as a cocky 30-something year old who thought he was God’s gift to the profession. I was quickly cut down to size by my senior reviser who (for the next 5 years) hauled me over every single sentence of every translation I did. I quickly figured that the task was much more complex than I had imagined and that there was much for an apprentice to learn from an older and more experienced professional. My company still takes this approach and takes on younger translators as apprentices – we have a continuous flow of German students in their final year of a translation degree who enjoy a trip down to the far away South Pacific to get some practical mentoring.


  13. “As I see it, there is an appropriate place in the profession for all the diverse skills, work practices and organisations – students, solo freelancers, subject experts, resellers, single or multi-language agencies – large and small.”

    Indeed. It’s a big world out there and fortunately for us, most people speak only one language. The fact is that various types of translation agencies can exist in addition to freelance translators only if there is a market for their product, which is clearly the case.

    But I do think that the acronym LSR (language service reseller) describes what translation agencies do better than the acronym LSP (language service provider).

    Many freelancers are unable or unwilling to make the effort to find direct customers for their product, especially beginning translators, so translation agencies clearly serve a very useful function also in this respect.

    When I function as an agency, I see myself as a reseller who provides a useful additional service (it is my job to find the right translator, to proofread her translation, and to pay her on time even though I have not been paid yet myself), as most resellers do. My clients understand that this is what I do and they pay me for this additional service roughly double what I pay to the translator.

    This is a relationship that exists also in many other types of business: Real estate agents for example can choose to work independently and keep the entire commission, which is usually 6 % of the purchase or sale price here in US, or work for a real estate firm, share their commission with the firm and keep only 3%. I have a friend who is a sign painter and when he works for advertising agencies, he gets 50% of what the agency is getting from the client, etc.

    There is nothing wrong with being an agency or calling an agency an agency.

    At this very moment I have two Japanese patents on my desk that I am translating myself, and three patents that will be translated by other translators and proofread by yours truly. So I am clearly both a translator and an agency.

    I am not beating up on agencies because I do think that many agencies do provide added value to the product that they resell – namely translations that were provided by translators who are the real providers of the services.

    But since translation agencies mostly just organize the work and package and resell the product, I call them LSRs (language service resellers), not LSPs (language service providers), as the actual service is provided by the translator, not by the agency.


  14. Maybe Chris is right, and the LSP confusion is down to a US/European terminology difference. We’ve certainly been using “LSP” for many years now to refer to providers of translation and related services of any size or legal form. The fact that Google doesn’t help here isn’t really a compelling argument, as most translation industry discussions take place away from the public arena (not just “invisible translators”, but also an “invisible industry”?).

    The SLV/MLV issue is really only relevant for localization, I think, which is characterised by “daisy chains” of service providers, few – if any – of which actually add any value. SLVs basically only work for MLVs, and there are tiers of MLVs, rather like the automotive supply chain. Largely the hunting ground of the “CFC” agencies (cheap, fast, crap).

    An interesting take on the business model: “buying translations from other translators and then reselling them at a substantial profit”. That’s certainly an agency model, and very much an agency mindset. But not every business that outsources translations is an agency, and not every agency is a “reseller” (which to me means a “broker”).

    For example, we outsource translations to freelances to supplement our in-house capacity. When we do that, we’re not “buying the translations and then reselling them”, we’re simply using freelance translators as an “external workbench”, no more, no less. All translations are subject to rigorous revision, regardless of whether they’re translated externally or internally, and the revisers (generally referred to as “editors” in the United States), i.e. myself and my partner, aren’t just exceptionally experienced translators, we’re also subject-area experts. What we say, goes.

    Of course, there are very, very few LSPs that are highly specialised boutiques like ourselves, but there are still quite a lot of companies out there that do far more than just resell bought-in translations, for example revising translations competently and professionally (either internally or using experienced freelances). The point is that there are many successful business models in the translation industry, and trying to stuff all translation companies into an “agency” or “reseller” category just doesn’t do justice to the different ways of running a translation business. That in turn is, I suppose, why a neutral term such as “LSP” is actually so useful…


    • @Robin,
      “The point is that there are many successful business models in the translation industry ”
      Indeed. That very topic is addressed in one submission for the BDÜ’s conference in Berlin in September. See “There’s gold in them thar hills” at


  15. Hi Robin, and thank you for your comment.

    “All translations are subject to rigorous revision, regardless of whether they’re translated externally or internally, and the revisers (generally referred to as “editors” in the United States), i.e. myself and my partner, aren’t just exceptionally experienced translators, we’re also subject-area experts. What we say, goes.”

    You are not implying that I am not proofing and editing everything that I send to other translators to translate, or that I am not at least as competent proofreader and editor in my field as you are in yours, are you?

    Because that would make me really mad!

    Unlike many sorry outfits calling themselves LSPs, I am a highly experienced translator who is also a very thorough and highly experienced language service reseller (LSR).


    • Hi Steve,
      Of course I’m not implying anything of the sort about you personally, or your own abilities. Rather, it’s what you seem to be implying about others that is simply wrong.

      You’re the one who wrote: “I don’t believe that one can design a standard method that would ensure high translation quality by requiring that several layers of highly qualified translators and editors work each and every time on a single translation, although it is definitely an excellent advertising gimmick to claim that this is a method that agencies are using, of course.”

      Wrong, you can. And I suppose your referring to this as a “gimmick” is what really took my breath away. Maybe you need to find out a bit more about how other people are successfully operating in the premium translation market. And referring to themselves as “LSPs”.


  16. Yes, I wrote it because I believe that it is indeed an advertising gimmick … not always, of course, only in about 99% of LSRs who say that this is what they do each and every time.

    The most important thing, at least in the field of patent translation, is the selection of the first translator. If you have the right person for the job, all you need is careful proofreading to catch typos or omission.

    If you pick the wrong person for the job, 3 or 33 levels of careful proofreading will only result in a total FUBAR.

    I wrote an article for ATA Chronicle titled “Is Technical Translation Really A Collaborative Activity?” several years ago.

    It’s kind of long but you can read it here if you are so inclined. Note that the manager of a translation agency that inspired my article in fact confirmed when he called me that the whole thing is mostly an advertising gimmick as I say in my UPDATE to the original article.


    • 99%? Well, Steve, I guess nobody could ever accuse of you of failing to generalise in the extreme. But, as you refer specifically to “resellers”, I’m sure you can be forgiven.

      Of course you’re right that the most effective way to get a good translation is to pick the right translator in the first place. But, sometimes that doesn’t work for whatever reason, and sometimes even really good translators have bad days. In cases like this, a good reviser can turn a bad translation into, at a minimum, an acceptable one. No FUBAR. The reviser may well end up cursing at and having quite homicidal thoughts towards said translator, but at least the resulting translation can be sent to the customer with a clear conscience.

      Incidentally, one other terminology issue that causes confusion is “proofreading”. A lot of people seem to use it as a synonym for “revision”, whereas we only use it for “the act of reading through the proofs”, i.e. the final checks of the revised translation in its final layout, before it goes to print. For many of our customer projects, *we* (and not e.g. the client) have to sign off on the English proofs, so liability issues alone mean that this is something we don’t do in a rush.


      • @Robin On all counts, I have to say that my experience coincides with yours. I can understand what Steve is saying (even agree on most points) – but his description of reality does not coincide with mine. Interestingly, when I first started as translator (1980) the landscape (in my country at least) was rather the way Steve describes it in his blog. We had a smallish government translation section with full-time linguists (translators and revisers), freelancers and a bunch of small agencies who were just the sort of “resellers” Seve describes.

        We used to call these guys “post-office box agencies”. Typically not run by linguists, they received jobs from customers, flung them out to freelancers and then posted them on, unchecked, to the customers. But then things started to change and an entirely new breed of translation company emerged in response to the changing needs of an developing global economy. These language companies needed a whole new range of intellectual skills to cover multi-language work, publishing, typesetting, multi-media etc. We needed linguists who knew about computer programming, and graphic artists who knew how to typeset Japanese in addition to the skilled translators. We needed professional project managers who understood what translation was about (or were at least bilingual) and who could coordinate complex projects involving multiple languages without getting everything in a mess. The profession just exploded with requirements for all sorts of new skills that had never before been associated with translation.

        So, here’s what “LSPs” look like to me. In Germany, for instance, there are around 800 so-called “LSPs” – average income US$20m, 50% of them have between 10 – 500 employees. 33% of them have EN 15038 certification – i.e. they’ve undergone and passed an on-site audit of their quality management system. This doesn’t necessarily mean they can all produce great translations – but nevertheless many of these “LSPs” are sophisticated outfits who employ all sorts of intellectual labour to get the work done. I don’t doubt there are some “resellers” amongst this lot too, but I have the feeling that the changing demands of the market are becoming too sophisticated (and too competitive) for the type of simple “reseller/agency” that I remember in the 1980’s to remain a very viable business. May be it is different in the USA.

        There is something qualitatively different about “LSPs” that sets them apart from the old-style translation agency which (to me at least) justifies the term.
        By all means let’s use Steve’s term LSR for those businesses which do little else than take a margin for passing the work on (good, bad or indifferent).


  17. What some may see as generalizing in the extreme, I see as pointing out the obvious, namely that it is typically not the agency who provides the translation, but the translator, or “the external workbench” as you so elegantly put it.

    We do seem to have a very different concept of the translation industry and translator’s role in it.

    But since you specialize in financial translation and I specialize in patents, it is quite possible that your approach works best in your field, although I think that my approach works best in my field.

    If I pick the right person for the job, I don’t need to change anything in the translation. I see myself as a mere proofreader who is simply looking for typos and omissions.

    I only have to do a lot of editing if I am working with a relative beginner, which does happen sometime.


  18. Dear Paul:

    If you ever decide to use me as an “external workbench”, I assure you that all you will have to do with my translation is check it for possible typos.

    I could even train your receptionist, if you have one, next time when I visit New Zealand and certify her as a qualified patent checker, provided that you or she picks the right patent translator for the job every time, of course.


  19. @Paul: Brilliant post. We used to refer to these guys as “envelope switchers” or “envelope shifters” (German: “Umtüter”), and they’re most definitely still around in a very big way. Though nowadays I suppose something like “virtual repackagers” is more appropriate.

    Fascinating data on LSPs in Germany. Where did you get it? I’m particularly curious about the number and employee information, and of course the “average income” (does that mean “revenue”?). My experience is that most LSPs in Germany don’t have more than 3 employees (so we’re quite large at around 10 FTEs). And revenue data is basically impossible to come by in Germany, except for large corporations that are required by law to file their income statements. So I’m pretty flabbergasted that you’re able to cite what appears to be quite robust data!


    • @RobinB: Love the term “virtual repackagers” – that puts a new slant on it! Yes “revenue” – the “average” is a bit skewed given the effect of a few biggies, nevertheless it is much higher than most people realise, I think.. Re. stats for Germany – Drop me an email to paul.edgar[at]


    • @Paul,
      I’m interested, too, in the source of your data. And rather skeptical of “averages” in this context, because my experience is similar to that of Robin — 400 translation businesses in Germany with between 10 and 500 employees?


      • @Chris: My data are from 2010. Happy to talk about source of data etc – but this is probably not approriate in a public forum. Please let me have your email address – you’re welcome to drop me a line at paul.edgar[at]


  20. […] Machine Translation in 2012? ( are not just agencies! ( Translation Agencies Really LSPs (Language Service Providers) or LSRs (Language Services Reselle… ( in Blog | […]


  21. […] Machine Translation in 2012? ( are not just agencies! ( Translation Agencies Really LSPs (Language Service Providers) or LSRs (Language Services Reselle… ( (function(){ var hsjs = document.createElement("script"); […]


  22. […] sich 2012 überall durchsetzen? ( are not just agencies! ( Translation Agencies Really LSPs (Language Service Providers) or LSRs (Language Services Reselle… ( (function(){ var hsjs = document.createElement("script"); […]


  23. […] Since the real providers of translations are obviously translators, not the agencies, I have suggested that the term “LSRs” (Language Services Resellers) would be perhaps more appropriate, although the term “translation agency” is obviously the best because nobody outside of the translation industry understands the abbreviation “LSP” anyway although it has been thrown around by agencies and translators alike for something like 20 years. […]


  24. […] Community) Transcollaboration: Working with and not against our colleagues in the T&I industry Are Translation Agencies Really LSPs or LSRs (Language Services Resellers)? A true story! Should you pay for poor quality translation services? Simple But Yet So Difficult To […]


  25. […] that I am saying, crazy as they may seem sometime. The last one, posted on Proz, was my post called Are Translation Agencies Really LSPs (Language Service Providers) or LSRs (Language Services Resell…, which was posted on Proz by Michelle Kusuda (thank you, […]


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  29. […] is the popular abbreviation “LSP”, which stands for “Language Service Provider”. As I already said in another post, whatever the origins of this abbreviation are – and there seem to be several competing […]


  30. […] wrote several posts about the term “LSP” a while ago and you can read one of them here in case you are interested in my take on it and the ensuing […]


  31. While we’re talking about misusing terms, why do translators willingly go along with calling “copy editing” (reading, correcting, and tweaking a text) “proof reading” (checking for typos). And why do language professionals, of all people, use the word “acronym” (word made out of initials) for something that is clearly not a word (how do you pronounce LSP? Lursp?).


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