What is the difference between a “translation company” and a “translation agency”?

Within the language services industry, the terms “company” and “agency” are often used interchangeably. Thus, a company that provides translation services to other companies might be referred to by its clients and contractors as either a “translation company” or a “translation agency”.

In some contexts, however, the term “agency” does have certain pejorative connotations. When freelance translators get together and discuss the relative merits of working for direct clients as opposed to “agencies”, the view is sometimes expressed that agencies get to keep a significant chunk of the money paid out by the client, despite adding little or nothing of value to the finished product.

The implication is that the agency has no in-house capabilities that are directly relevant to maintaining or improving the quality and accuracy of the translation (i.e. no in-house translation, checking or editing capability), and is thus merely trading on its access to skilled freelancers.
A further implication is that such agencies lack an in-depth understanding of the complexities of the translation process and are likely to cut corners (for example, by skimping on the checking or editing processes) in order to maximize revenue.

This may well be a valid criticism of some firms. However, there are numerous other language service providers (Honyaku Plus included) whose staff includes full-time in-house translators who carry out a significant proportion of the translation projects that the company undertakes for its clients. This type of company will likely still outsource some fraction of the work that it carries out to freelancers—either because its in-house translators are fully occupied or because the job at hand requires a translator with a particular specialization.

Given this implicit distinction between the two words, we at Honyaku Plus always prefer to be described as a “translation company” rather than a “translation agency”, as we do employ in-house translators and take enormous care in ensuring that the work which we deliver has been thoroughly checked and edited.

In contrast, the interpreters that we supply to clients are all freelancers whom we engage on a per-project basis. Thus, we would not quarrel with the description “interpreting agency” as it applies to us.

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