Posted by: patenttranslator | October 23, 2016

A Very Short Glossary of Three Key Terms in the Modern Translation Industry

Clients – people who need to have something translated from and into various languages, whether they be private individuals, employees working in companies (or for example patent lawyers who need to have texts of patent applications translated into and from different languages), are often confused, baffled and stumped by trendy terms that are used in the modern translation industry because these terms are not exactly self-explanatory. Today’s blog post clarifies a few of these terms.

1. Boutique Translation Agency

The term ‘boutique’ usually means a shop specializing in something, such as ladies handbags, or men’s and women’s wristwatches. But in this case the term refers to a translation agency that is quite small, by any objective standard. The word ‘boutique’ is code for ‘small’ in the same way the word ‘cozy’ is code for ‘small’ in the real estate business – no real estate industry professional worth his or her salt would call an apartment or house ‘small’ no matter how tiny it might be.

Boutique agencies thus generally come in two sizes:

1.Small and


However, although efforts to computerize translation as much as possible are the hallmark of the modern translation industry, no matter how small a boutique translation agency may be, each such boutique agency is run by at least one (1) living person (as opposed to a computer or a robot) and sometimes by as many as two or three actual living persons. Efforts to computerize the translation industry as much as possible have so far been concentrated on replacing translators by computers or robots who do the actual translating work, not the persons who buy and sell these translations, i.e. boutique agency owners and operators.

This is because translation is a relatively simple activity and translators can thus be relatively easily replaced by computers and software, unlike highly qualified sales professionals.

The process of buying translations at low prices and selling them at higher prices is much more complicated and requires a much higher degree of sophistication than the actual translating process and that is why computers or robots are never used to replace boutique agency operators, only translators.

2. Full-Service Translation Agency

The main difference between a boutique translation agency and a full-service translation agency is that while boutique translation agencies pride themselves on dealing with only a few cute specialty fields and languages (such as translating financial prospectuses from Danish to Mongolian and vice versa), full-service translation agencies specialize in everything: absolutely every subject and absolutely every language, in any direction.

If you can think of it, they specialize in it, be it a language, subject, or anything else.

Full-service translation agencies proudly claim on their websites things like, “As we have more than 4,900 translators across the globe, you can be confident that we’ve got every language covered. With over 110 years’ experience and 59 + million words translated, we’ve got commercial and technical native-speaking translation experts for every challenge.

However, with so many far-flung “technical native-speaking translation experts” dispersed across the entire world, it is only natural that “full-service” translation agencies have no actual information about the translation experts who will be doing the actual translating work for them.

Beyond a few words stating that full-service translation agencies have thousands of qualified translators (obviously, not in their offices since they would not all fit in there), no other information about the education and qualifications of these many thousands of highly qualified translators is available on the websites of full-service translation agencies.

You just have to trust them that they work with the best native-speaking translation experts in the world, rather than the cheapest warm body available at a given moment.

Unlike boutique translation agencies, full-service translation agencies come in all sizes as the term is completely size-neutral. A full-service translation agency can be headquartered in London or New York and have dozens of satellite offices on several continents, or it can be just one guy working on a laptop from his kitchen somewhere in Moldova or India. And sometime, the guy working on a laptop from a kitchen rents a P.O. Box number in London or New York to have an impressive address for the headquarters of his company in the most important markets for translation.

The immense scope of languages and services provided thus unfortunately makes it difficult to ascertain any information about any given full-service translation agency. And since the majority of translation agencies, big and small, claim to be “full-service”, no information is available about translators who will be translating for example a complicated bio-technology paper from Korean to English, or an equally complex county school brochure from English to Chinese.

3. LSP (Language Service Provider)

I have already written several posts on the subject of how the term LSP, which stands for Language Services Provider, has replaced the term “translation agency” by the translation industry for about the last decade, while the overwhelming majority of customers still have no idea what it means.

This term continues to be a major source of confusion for our customers, who generally have no clue what it refers to unless the abbreviation is explained, which is almost never the case. The translation industry seems to assume that our customers in the meantime have learned the meaning of the abbreviation. But unfortunately, that is only wishful thinking.

Despite the fact that I wrote a special explanatory post on this subject more than five years ago, search engines have not picked up on that post’s valuable information, which is already historical in terms of how recent information in the blogosphere must be to be still considered relevant.

When I Googled the abbreviation LSP a moment ago, the explanations for the abbreviation offered by the search engine were ranked as follows:

  1. Louisiana State Police
  2. Layered Service Provider, and
  3. Local Strategic Partnership.

The words “Language Services Provider” do not appear in the Google’s first three pages of rankings, unless you Google the actual title of my post from five years ago, “What Is an LSP (Other Than a Misnomer?”) in which case my blog post should come up right on top in the second position (after Layered Service Provider, which is “a deprecated feature of the Microsoft Windows Winsock 2”, whatever that is).

My own theory is that translation agencies are so ashamed of being called translation agencies these days that they came up with an incomprehensible (to most people) acronym, just like Prince replaced the name Prince in the 1990s with a fancy unpronounceable symbol with instructions that the symbol should be pronounced as “the artist formerly known as Prince”. He did it because he wanted to get back at the Sony Corporation, which owned his contract. All this because he found the company’s methods too dictatorial.

As I have said, I am not really sure why translation agencies replaced two words that are easily understandable in English and most other languages that I can think of with an incomprehensible abbreviation, unless they are ashamed of what the words “translation agency” have come to mean these days.

Although, since translation agencies do not provide translation services, rather they simply buy them from translators and resell them at a profit, one reason why the words “translation agency” were replaced by a mystical abbreviation could also be that the translation industry wants to make translators simply disappear in the wide and wild wasteland of the translation industry, so that actual translators will never be found by actual clients, only by translation agencies.


  1. I would love to re-blog your analysis, although I think the term translation expert should be written as translation “expert”.


  2. You have my permission to reblog my post, Josephine.

    I am actually quoting the term “translation expert” and other items in my post today from propaganda found on the website of a translation agency, I only took the liberty of changing the numbers a little bit.


    • Interestingly, if you google one part of the sentence you quoted you’ll find another agency using the exact same language on its website, but with “…more than 13,681 translators across the globe…” and promising “unbelievable prices.” Names omitted to protect the guilty.


  3. Propaganda? Heaven forbid! I love it when some of the third-world bottom-feeding translation agencies claim that all their translators are “experts”! Anyone willing to work in or out of any language for $0.02 a word (probably Canadian dollars at that!) as I saw advertised on the web recently cannot be described as an expert.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Regarding the full-size crowd, the biggest translator ‘team’ apparently belongs to an Italian agency. Unfortunately Google keeps sending me their ads.

    According to said ads and their homepage, “208,173 professional translators and 84,907 customers have been translating the intelligent way since 1999.” From where on God’s green Earth did they pull these numbers?


  5. These people do sound insane.


  6. Josephinebacon i agree absolutely. Propaganda exatcly. You know this is Greek word and we Greeks we use so much. !


  7. Great post, Steve. Not too long, for once. 😉


    • I was going to explain seven key terms but then I figure it might make the post a tad too long.


  8. My very dear Josephine,

    The first 2 occurrences of “translation experts” are in a sentence or a segment between inverted commas.

    In the next 2 occurrences, it is obvious that the author is putting the word “experts” in doubt:

    – “translation agencies **have no actual information about** the translation experts”;

    – “You just have to **trust them** that they work with the best native-speaking translation experts in the world, rather than the ***cheapest warm body*** available at a given moment.”.

    The author leaves it to the reader to make his own conclusions.

    With inverted commas around “experts”, it would have sounded like diffamation and, in any case, very heavy.

    Do you understand?



  9. Reblogged this on International Language Services – Isabelle F. Brucher – Translation office specializing in Law, Finance and Marketing since 2004 and commented:
    “Boutique #translation agency”, “Full-service #t9n agency” and “#LSP (#Language Service Provider)” explained. #xl8


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