Posted by: patenttranslator | April 30, 2014

Seven Unmistakable Signs That a Translation Agency Is a Fake

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 in a pinch 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.


  1. Your assessments are right on target! There are so many unprofessional companies out there that call themselves translation agencies or LSPs, who don’t add any value to the translation process.

    Luckily, there are also excellent agencies who are working with qualified translators. My favorite agencies are indeed specialized in a particular field or a specific set of language pairs. Usually, their project managers can at least read and understand the languages they are working with. Top agencies supply me with quality assignments. They take care of marketing, educate the clients and I am free to simply focus on my craft. They make sure clients clarify ambiguously written source texts and they pay me a decent rate on time regardless of whether their client is having a cash flow issue or not. For that I am gladly giving up a cut of my earning potential.


  2. @Buttertalks

    I agree with you.

    Unfortunately, it seems to me that although the kind of translation agency you describe in your comment was very common a couple of decades ago, it is much less common now, partly because anybody who is smart enough to figure out how to go on the Internet can “start a translation agency”.


  3. Hi Steve, I am a translator and I run my own translation agency. Your post made me wonder what kind of impression my website leaves on someone as expert and demanding as you. I’d be interested (and honored) if you could give me some feedback 🙂



  4. Hi Stéphanie:

    I like your website as well as the name of your business. Very original and innovative.

    My (subjectively) negative comments, which is the more important part, would be as follows:

    1. When I clicked on “Who is Fairtrad”, I did not really find out who Fairtrad is.

    2. The way English is mixed with German and French on the same page may be a little disorienting to a monolingual client.

    3. The way the images are quickly changing may be a little disorienting to a slow thinker (such as myself).

    Since I did what you asked, can you give me your opinion of my website: (feel free to throw in a comment about my blog as well).

    Good luck in your business!!!!


    • Hello again Steve,
      Thank you for your feedback on my website. Actually all the issues you mentioned are being addressed and the site will have a new Portfolio page in place of the current “who is Fairtrad” useless button (going live on the beginning of June).

      I have looked at your website and I think the content is very useful and goes straight to the point (you are the best in translating patents), but the graphics are a little “cheap” and makes the page not very user friendly – might give the idea that you are a low cost provider, even if reading the content it does not.

      The website, as the blog, are very well built from a SEO point of view and content quality, hence the high number of visitors and comments. And you take the time to respond to all the comments on the blog, which is great, and smart.

      I’ll be following you and I’ll keep you in mind in case I receive any request for patent translations – a domain in which I do not specialize.


  5. Oh, many thanks for the great laugh, dear Steve. I am especially fond of #7, since I’ve seen the same stock images on several agency websites. And yes, they are all young, sexy and blonde (and certainly not translators). Now, do try again to take a selfie so we can see what you look like in this millenium. Will you?

    Still chuckling about your excellent point about ISO. 🙂


  6. “Now, do try again to take a selfie so we can see what you look like in this millenium. Will you?”

    My wife told me that I should definitely stick with the old picture and I trust her opinion (about things like that).

    Incidentally, how old is the picture on your blog?


  7. Food for thought and nice choice of music whilst reading. Thanks


  8. Very interesting! I have worked (and still do) with a handful of agencies. No bad experiences, but I do my little research before accepting to work for them! 🙂


  9. Brilliant!

    Point #7 really made me laugh (beware of the the stock staff photos), and #3 is absolutely spot on.

    It’s a two way street, so we always prefer to chat direct with any new translators looking to join us. That way, we get a proper understanding of their specialised fields and how serious they are about working with us. Our mantra is always “Happy Translators = Happy Clients.”


  10. Yep, good points. ISO only certifies customer service. I have seen “our translations are ISO 9002 certified” – patently false.
    Concerning photos – I have invested (a small amount) in getting a professional photo done and also put it on my business card. How many cards do you have with a name you can no longer put to a face? Also, translation being (sometimes) such a faceless profession where everything happens online, it’s nice for the client to be able to have an image to put to the voice on the other end of the phone.


  11. “ISO only certifies customer service. I have seen “our translations are ISO 9002 certified” – patently false.”

    Thank you.

    Patently false, but found all over the Internet.

    See also this blog post of Masked Translator from January of 2009:


  12. Great post, Steve.

    Number 7 (which is one of the first tell-tale signs because it is immediately noticeable) is not only used to hide the fact that the person(s) running this operation are probably doing so from a laptop out of their bedroom or kitchen table (or worse, dorm-room) and don’t really want to expose themselves for (what will be discovered later as) obvious reasons, but also goes to show that the whole is setup is generic, amateurish, and the person behind it doesn’t really care. They hired a cheap (this is the general motive with these people) “web-designer” who uses and recycles the one template – which some cheaply available stock images – that they use for all their “webdesign” work, or bought a cheap “corporate-like” template (this is another thing, those websites usually try to create the impression that they are a legit and respectful business by mimicking the style and layout that had become associated with “corporate” websites) from one of the many webdesign marketplaces. The content is also generic, vague and full of ridiculous claims without actually telling something, as you have pointed very well in your post.

    And a couple more tell-tale signs, in my opinion:
    1) Be wary of websites with some kind of “quote-calculator”, especially instant-one to which one has to feed the document alongside some basic details that will be fed into the all-mighty automated system that will choose the “best” translators (code name for sending mass email to everyone listed on the required language pair) based on some superficial and questionable criteria, thus eliminating the core value that such company should offer to the buyer, the expertise of professional managing a translation project from start to finish. Those brokers trade in words by the bulk so the word count is all they need before sending inquires, while a professional practice or practitioner will usually be interested to speak with the translation buyer, learn a little about their business, their needs for this particular project (and in general) before quoting, and then will proceed to offer consultation and suggest an effective workflow (if this is a rolling or a more complex project).

    2) Be wary of company websites with a generic blog – the type filled with short, generic, vague, pointless articles that go round-and-round without actually saying anything because they are just habitats for keywords to to support the SEO effort for luring naive and gullible translation buyers into their trap.

    These blog articles are usually filled with generic content such as why it is important to choose a translation provider just like them, how magical the technology that this particular company just happens to use really is, some random generic top 5 to 10 lists, and stories of contrived case-studies about how this company helped translate the entire content of the Library of Congress overnight into 27 languages, while saving their – fully satisfied, of course – client a ton of money in the process, and all along singing their own praise, emphasizing how they, with their “can do” attitude, tackled the daunting task head first and worked around the clock (and not the imaginary translators who worked on this imaginary task) to make sure that everything is running smoothly and on schedule.

    The average translation buyer is usually at disadvantage due to lack of knowledge about the translation process and often about what they (the buyer) even need when it comes to translating (a very general term without context). Those unscrupulous operations just exploit this.


  13. @Shai

    Another telltale sign that a translation agency is a fake is when you click on the “Contact us” button and instead of finding out where the “agency” is located and who are the people running it, you have to leave information about yourself and what kind of translation you need.

    Some of these outfits simply don’t have information identifying them, such as address, on their site at all. They may have a telephone number or a P.O. box there, but just because the phone number is located in US or England does not mean that that is where the outfit is in fact located.


    • Very true Steve, and to compensate for the lack of any identifying details, the Contact Us page is usually plastered with stock images of fancy office buildings to give the appearance of legitimacy in an attempt to mislead others into trusting them.

      These outfits target those who don’t know any better or don’t care.
      Their only positive contribution is that they work quite hard on educating some future clients of professional practices and practitioners.


  14. Translationethics blog had recently a nice post about the tactic that some translation agencies use: in addition to putting pretty pictures on their website (not just sexy young people, but also flowers and even cute children with doggies), they rent a P.O. Box address in New York or Paris for a few dollars a year and pretend that that’s where there office is located, while in reality they are somewhere in one of the poorest countries on this planet with much cheaper office rents.


    • Interesting read, indeed.
      There is without a doubt a very strong inverse correlation between the characteristics described in your post and the above referenced TranslationEthics article and the trustworthiness and quality of a certain company.

      Many (most?) translation buyers are unaware that when contracting a translation company, they don’t hire a competent service provider, just a broker. In the best case scenario this is a professional agent that knows their work and how to manage a translation project in a win-win-win, but in the worst case scenarios, they are hiring a broker – a mere middleman with a zero-sum game attitude who invest the client’s money into funding their overhead and lining their pocket as much as they only can: It’s not how much you (the translation buyer) pay for the service, it all comes down to how much (and to whom) the broker is paying.

      This is one of the main reasons behind some translation buyers losing trust in the translation services market as a whole. They see it as one big market, completely unaware that most of the time they are exposed to the lower and borderline fraudulent market segments, in which it doesn’t seem to matter how much they pay, the quality remains low, so why pay a lot if the value is always poor. They are unaware that regardless of the slickness of the sales reps, the marking babble, and the unfounded claims for the perfect solution, the agencies are in fact using the same business model, buying low from pretty much the same type of unskilled service providers, and any difference in markup is invested in covering their overhead and/or straight to pocket.


  15. “It’s not how much you (the translation buyer) pay for the service, it all comes down to how much (and to whom) the broker is paying.”

    Very true.

    Paying a lot of money for a translation is unfortunately not a guarantee of high quality in a system that is controlled by brokers who are mostly motivated by the bottom line.


    • While paying a lot for translation is indeed, unfortunately, not a guarantee of high quality, buying translation for cheap is pretty much a guarantee of low quality.

      The main problems for the average honest translation buyer are to know what too little means figuratively (which is a little difficult to define, although less difficult than what some stakeholders attempt to make it to be), and when is one being played by the unscrupulous brokers who take advantage of the willingness of some people to pay for quality, only to betray that trust by employing the sell-high, buy-low business model.


  16. […] es mi traducción de una entrada originalmente publicada en Patenttranslator’s Blog por el colega Steve Vitek, quien tuvo la amabilidad de autorizarme a publicarla en nuestro blog […]


  17. […] There 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…  […]


  18. […] На днях мне попалась интересная статья одного известного англоязычного переводчика-блоггера. Статья называется «Семь несомненных признаков мошеннического агентства переводов». Найти ее можно здесь. […]


  19. […] Похоже, это о них писал Стив в своей статье:  Seven Unmistakable Signs That a Translation Agency Is a Fake […]


  20. […] interpreters: neurolinguistic aspects Make Friends…Not Contacts: 10 Tips for Language Translators Seven Unmistakable Signs That a Translation Agency Is a Fake How the Neighborhoods of Manhattan Got Their Names The 6 Tools You Already Have for Improving […]


  21. […] Это о них писал Стив в своей статье:  Seven Unmistakable Signs That a Translation Agency Is a Fake […]


  22. […] a previous post titled Seven Unmistakable Signs That A Translation Agency Is A Fake, I listed some of the most telling signs of an agency operating based on the rules of the corporate […]


  23. Hello,

    Your post is great at first sight, but badly reduces translation business to translating some documents by a translator. This may be right for many translations, particularly document translations. However, it ignores larger translation projects with tight deadline where many translators should work as connected to implement complex instructions and quality assurance procedures are important and therefore ignores role of translation agencies. I agree 2, 3 and of course 7.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Reblogged this on Gisela Pérez González.


  25. […] Over the last few years, I’ve written several posts on the bizarre concept of the so-called ISO certification process, one of the modern features in the jungle of translation industry 2.0, for example this one in 2014, this one in 2015, or this one in 2016. […]


  26. Translationethics blog had a nice post about some translation agencies.Lexicon services, based on Noida is a top-notch company that provides official translation services. All kinds of certified translation services are also provided.Archive Translation, Property Document Translation and Legal Document Translation, document interpretation are some of the further expertise provided by Lexicon Services


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