There are thousands of translation agencies on the Internet, although they like to call themselves “LSPs” these day, which stands for “Language Services Providers”, mostly to hide the fact that they are just brokers rather than providers of services because the translation service is obviously provided by translators, not by translation agencies.
There are almost as many translation agencies on the Internet as there are translators.
How can a potential customer find an honest, hard-working and knowledgeable translation company, translation agency, or translator before the inevitable happens and an important translation project is botched and disfigured beyond all recognition?
I think that there are several reliable signs that one can look for in order to weed out fake outfits when looking for a competent provider of translation services, because competent and reliable translators and translator agencies do exist as well.
I decided to create a list of misleading, ludicrous and usually completely bogus claims that are typically used in the marketing propaganda on the websites of fake translation agencies.
1. We are ISO-certified.
This bombastic and totally meaningless statement is often accompanied by a magic number (as in “our ISO 9001:2008 certification assures the highest quality of our professional translation service). You can design a method and standards for example for the correct meat processing method, from the correct way to butcher a poor pig to the best way to make a tasty sausage, or for mixing of concrete for bridges and highrises and atomic fallout shelters, and for other manufacturing and even for some service processes. Unfortunately, a handy method applicable to translating does not exist because the translation result will depend in this case not very much on the method but mostly on the competence of the translator, which is something that is very difficult, although not impossible, to measure and quantify.
A blanket statement saying “We are ISO 9001:2008-certified” is just a marketing gimmick aimed at gullible clients and anybody who knows something about translation will understand this.
Where do you think the money for compliance with the ISO certification, nonsensical as it is, comes from? Even if the translation agency bothers to really comply with a method that was originally designed for a completely different purpose, namely manufacturing of industrial products, and my guess would be that after they become certified on paper, most agencies will simply ignore what makes no sense in the first place, there is only one place where the money for this certification can come from. Yes, you guessed right, from the remuneration of the translator.
ISO-certified translation agencies are thus much more likely to use less expensive and less competent translators, which somewhat paradoxically means that they are are also much more likely to produce translations of inferior quality, unlike more honest, specialized translation agencies that do not find it necessary to boast on their websites that they are ISO-certified to attract gullible clients with this marketing ploy.
2. We translate all languages and specialize in all translation fields.
This statement often means that nobody at the ambitious translation enterprise has any special knowledge about anything and that is why the sorry outfit has no choice but to eagerly accept work from and into any language and in any field. How can anybody claim with a straight fact to have the relevant understanding of every field of human knowledge (and in every language) in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century?
Universal wisdom of this kind, called pansophism (which means knowing everything about everything, or just about, from that fabulous predecessor of chemistry called alchemy to mathematics and everything else, including the most important languages of the small world back then), was still attainable at the beginning of the 17th century when the scope of human knowledge was quite limited.
But of course, since brokers selling translations really need only to know one thing: how to buy low and sell high, they are the new self-proclaimed “pansophists” of our age who shamelessly claim to “specialize” in all languages and all fields.
3. We don’t use translators – instead, we work with doctors, lawyers, specialists with a Ph.D., etc.
This statement shows a complete lack of understanding of what translation is about. Every good doctor or lawyer needs special education and pertinent experience, and so does a translator. It is possible to become a translator without having specialized linguistic education, but not without having a thorough knowledge of at least two languages, which is something that can be obtained only after many years of studying, and many years of experience as a specialized translator. A very good doctor can be a very bad translator because different skills sets are required in this case for two different jobs.
Also, doctors, lawyers and specialists with advanced degrees are not very likely to work for the low, low rates that translation agencies who like to use this spurious marketing claim on their website are paying to the uncredentialed translators who are willing to work for next to nothing.
4. Every translation is checked through our system of several layers of careful editing and improved several times by our numerous bilingual category experts in 5 (6, 7, up to 10) experts in our own, patented, translation quality checking stages.
This marketing ploy is aimed at particularly gullible clients because it is so transparently false. Even if multiple levels of deconstruction and reconstruction could result in a good translation, and they couldn’t as I argued many years ago in this article for the ATA Chronicle, how could possibly anybody pay 5 (or up to 7 or 8 highly qualified experts) to work on a single translation, and how much would such a translation have to cost, given that most highly qualified experts are loathe to work for free?
5. We have 3 (4, 5, generally not more than 10) thousand highly qualified expert translators in our database.
Well, there are not even a few dozen, let alone 3,000, highly qualified expert translators for any given field and language on this planet. What this absurd claim really means is that the translation agency is collecting as many entries for its database of translators as possible so that if and when a translation is required, the job could go to the one translator who is listed in the database as offering the lowest rate, as this will mean the maximum profit for the translation agency.
Good, honest and experienced translation agencies, who really specialize and know their job very well, generally work only with a few translators who are known to them as the best in a given field, because this is the best guarantee of a good translation. They know that one would need to have (3, 4, up to 10) thousand translators listed in a database mostly in order to zero in on the rock bottom prices which are often offered by zombie translators whose product is only slightly better than the product of machine translation as I wrote for example in this post.
And that is not what they are interested in.
6. Our custom-designed, specialized computer-assisted translation technology translates into major savings for our clients.
Everybody, including translators, is using computer technology these days. Some translators use special memory tools called CATs, which stands for computer-assisted translation software, some don’t. These tools are very handy for certain types of translations, such as for example highly repetitive updates of printer and computer manuals, but not very suitable (in the humble opinion of Mad Patent Translator) for example for patent translation, and completely useless for other types of translation, for example translations of novels or of advertising materials.
One big problem with these tools is that some translation agencies have been trying to pay less or nothing at all for words and passages that are repeated in the text (called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” in the CAT lingo).
The translator thus often becomes just a glorified word processor who must strictly and slavishly adhere to terms prescribed to him or her by the omniscient CAT tool, and who is often shortchanged by the translation agency based on the magic of the knowledge of mathematical facts hidden in the word-counting software.
This is hardly a recipe for the highest possible level of translation quality, although from the viewpoint of some translation agencies, it is of course an excellent way to ensure that the translators, if we can still call them that, will be paid as little as possible.
The savings (the money that is not paid to the translators) are sometimes passed on, at least partially, to the clients, and sometimes not at all.
7. Photoshopped images of sexy young people posing as experienced translators on websites of some translation agencies.
Sexy blondes are preferred for this purpose, although redheads and brunettes will do too, and at least one of the young persons has glasses and a pensive look on his (although usually her) perfect face to project the image that this particular highly experienced translator is concentrating right in this moment on a particularly complicated translation problem. Studly males can be included as well, sometime even a guy who looks like a gym trainer with a touch of gray in his hair, and at least three races should be represented.
These images often mean that the agency does not want to disclose who the actual operators of the website are because they are often monolingual and without any particular qualifications for the job at hand. That is why potential customers are shown instead illusions from Photoshop stock of images designed to make the customer feel happy about these pictures of pretty models who have absolutely nothing to do with translation.
I like to look at pictures of sexy blondes, redheads and brunettes as much as the next guy. But if I were a client who needs to have important documents translated, instead of their pictures I would want to see exactly who are the people who will be translating my documents, or at least the people who will be managing the translation.
A good translation agency, run by experienced translators or translation managers, will list prominently, proudly and with gusto the education and qualifications of the people who are offering specialized translation services or specialized translation management services to demanding clients and thus will have no need for Photoshopped images of sexy young people who never translated anything in their sweet short life.