Posted by: patenttranslator | April 17, 2012

An Example of How Some “LSPs” (Language Services Providers) Provide Expert Language Services

I found the following message in my e-mail a few days ago:

Hi Steve,

I got your information from the ATA directory.

We have 5 Japanese patents that are being translated and we would need someone to skim, proofread and edit them, if needed. Would you be available to take care of something like this? How much would you charge?

Kind regards,

Debbie (not her real name)

I ignored the message because I don’t “skim, proofread and edit if needed” other people’s translations unless they happen to be working for me, in which case instead of skimming, I proofread very carefully the work of people who I know personally as really good translators.

But I did go to the website of the company that sent me the message. It looks like it is a small company, probably run by one person, namely the one who sent me the e-mail. Her expertise is in “assessment of foreign diplomas and evaluation of academic and school records” and things like that.

The website describes the translation goals of the company as follows:

“Our experienced staff of translators will help translate your documents for immigration cases and other purposes. We will carefully review your diplomas, certificates, transcripts, employment letters, and other materials and will provide a clear and qualified translation. …..  All translations are subject to our rigorous Quality Assurance practices, ensuring accuracy.”

This is the extent of the description of the company’s services in the field of translation listed on the website, the rest of the information on the website relates mostly to prices for evaluation of different kinds of diplomas, academic transcripts and similar documents.

I have every reason to believe that Debbie is quite an expert when it comes to evaluation of foreign diplomas, and she can probably also competently proofread translations of foreign diplomas from several languages.

But I am 100% certain that she knows nothing about Japanese and/or the technical subject of the 5 patents that she wanted me to “skim if needed”. Otherwise, why would she need somebody like me? She could do the “skimming, if needed” by herself.

I can translate diplomas, transcripts and academic records from a number of languages. In fact, I have on my desk 9 such documents right now that I have to translate within the next few days.

But I don’t evaluate these diplomas because I am not qualified to do that.

Since Debbie knows that she is not qualified to evaluate the quality of the translations of the 5 Japanese patents that she has received, she is trying to find somebody who will do this for her. It may or may not work the way she wants it to work, but in any case, she will have absolutely no idea whether the person who will “skim and edit” the translations “if needed”, has done something useful because, as I said, it is clear that she does not know the language, and neither does she know anything about patents.

I often have to proofread translations of other patent translators who work for me, mostly in a language that I can’t translate myself.

But I believe that I am a competent proofreader of patents from quite a few languages, because unlike Debbie, I happen to have at least 25 years of directly relevant experience.

For example, if I proofread a translation of a chemical Chinese patent into English, I can usually find the Chinese characters corresponding to a term that I find questionable, compare them to a Japanese term, run them through machine translation, or ask an intelligent question the translator if I really think that something could be wrong. Chinese characters are similar to Japanese characters, and I have been translating chemical patents from Japanese for 25 years now. I can also use the same method if I proofread patents that have been translated for example from Dutch (because I translate from German), Spanish or Italian (because I translate from French and I know quite a bit of Latin), or Polish (because I translate from Russian, Slovak and Czech). I believe that the fact that I know other languages that are similar to those that I don’t know, combined with my experience in the field of patent translation, makes me a competent proofreader.

But since Debbie is completely clueless when it comes to translation of patents from any of the languages listed above, the ingenious method this LSP (which supposedly stands for “Language Service Provider”, although I think that it really means “Language Service Reseller”), is as follows.

1. Find several translators in the ATA (American Translators Association) directory who say that they can translate Japanese patents. Pick a few among them who charge a low rate. You have to go for a low rate because you will also need to pay a proofreader who should have at least some experience.

2. Find a proofreader in the ATA directory who seems to have experience but charges a low rate. You have to go for a low rate again because you will pay him in addition to the translators.

3. Send the “skimmed and proofread (if needed)” translations to the customer and hope for the best.

In a way, I have to admire Debbie. If she can run business like this, basically without knowing anything about the “language service provided” by her, she must be a pretty smart and resourceful businesswoman.

But one of these days she may be left holding the bag if an irate client refuses to pay her invoice because the translation is simply unusable, while she is stuck with 5 hefty invoices from 5 patent translators, because the chances are that she will have absolutely no idea which one of them is the one who screwed up the translation.


  1. While I agree with the point of this post, but there’s something here that cought my attention. I should ask (seriously but with a sarcastic tone just for the hell of it): My mother tongue is Spanish and I translate from English to Spanish (so far), are you saying that I should be able to proofread an English into Fench translation because I know Spanish? Because I’m more than certain that I can’t. Should I get checked out or something?

    At any rate, I am in awe by your language diversity.


  2. Thank you for your compliment. You made my day.

    I can only proofread translations into English.

    What I am saying is that I can proofread for example a translation of a Spanish patent to English much better than a monolingual person, although I don’t really know Spanish (I studied it shortly), because I know French, as well as some Latin, and I know a lot about patents.

    If your native language is Spanish and you translate only from English …. well, then you can only proofread English to Spanish, which in itself is no small feat either.


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