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Test Translations - Should there be a maximum size?
Thread poster: Paul Dixon

Paul Dixon  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:03
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Mar 5, 2006

A few weeks ago I had the offer of some translation work, and they sent me a sample text to be translated, of some 12 pages. How can I be sure that they are not just trying to get the work done for free? Should there be a maximum number of words and/or pages for sample test translations, and how should I deal with people who send excessively long sample texts? Has anyone had this kind of experience in the past, and how have they dealt with it?

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Wouter van Kampen
Local time: 00:03
Danish to Dutch
+ ...
200 - 300 words is normal Mar 5, 2006

They are just trying to get the work done for free!

An aggregate of 200 - 300 words containing all kinds of linguistic issues in combination with spezialized terminology is a good test.
Such a test has been especially prepared to assess the translator's ability in a specific field.

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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:03
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
12 pages? No way! Mar 5, 2006

As stated, 200 - 300 words is the norm. If this is a private person, it might be understandable that he/she doesn't know better, but if it is a professional agency or person, I would be very careful about working with them after this.

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Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:03
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
You set the parameters Mar 5, 2006

There is nothing to prohibit these people from sending you 12 pages. Whether you return them is entirely up to you.

One thing some people do is translate 300-400 words and send it back with a note saying something along the lines of "You should be able to make a decision about my competence based on this."

As a practical matter working as an outsourcer, this doesn't strike me as a particularly practical way to get translations done. At the 1996 conference of the American Translators Association, Maria Brown, the head of the Accreditation Committee at that time, reported that a significant number of people who had asked for practice tests never returned them. At the time, there was a fee to get a practice test. (There still is.) So if these people who pay for tests can't be bothered to return them, why should I send out a translation for something that has a deadline to someone who may or may not be competent and may or may not return it anyway? I prefer dealing with knowns.

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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:03
Dutch to English
+ ...
Timing Mar 5, 2006

Hi Paul,

You mention the offer was made a few weeks ago, normally these tests have a return date, so is it even worth pursuing it now?

12 pages as an unpaid test is unheard of - if you are sure the job is still available offer to do it at your standard rate, pointing out the industry standard for unpaid tests is around 300 words.

If you've already done it and haven't yet had a response, rest assured you were (unfortunately) taken for a cheap ride.

Hope it all turns out for the best

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Luis Zepeda
United States
Local time: 10:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Test Translations- Should there be a minimum size? Mar 5, 2006

Recently an article was posted where an advertised job for 120 words was requiring a test translation of 64 words. The general consensus ws that the test had to be in direct proportion to the job.

Refer to:

12 pages? I would ask for additional information regarding the job for which I am being tested and for payment for such test. Otherwise I would ignore them.

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Local time: 19:03
Member (2003)
English to Danish
+ ...
I have tried discussing it with a potential client. Mar 5, 2006

Once, I was asked to do a test of almost 800 words,
but my limit is around 200 to 300 words for free, so I informed the client about this.
The client agreed to select 300 words from the test, which I would then do as a sample.

On behalf of a client an agency asked for a free test including just over 1000 words, saying that the client would have 1,000,000+ words per year for the translator that would be chosen. This translator would also subsequently be paid for the test, but only if chosen as most qualified.

I also informed this agency that I would do 200 to 300 words, no more, since I am not in the habit of working for free delivering free translations to anyone.

This agency, however, insisted that I would be paid if I was chosen as the best qualified, so I would most likely get paid, so just do it!

I ended up repeating myself, insisting that 200 to 300 words carefully chosen by the client would be enough to assess my abilities, and the "order" was then cancelled.

If I was asked to translate more words for free than I would agree to, I would never just translate the usual amount of words and send this, because this is not agreed with the client, and I believe I would then be wasting my time entirely.

Just some points of view.

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Local time: 10:03
English to French
+ ...
Not uncommon for literary translations Mar 5, 2006

From what I have heard -I don't do those myself- a longer test is not uncommon if the job at hand is a book.

Of course, it would be simply ridiculous for any other field, if only because no PM would spend days going over all those test translations.

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shfranke  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:03
English to Arabic
+ ...
Send samples of previous products or references Mar 6, 2006


May I suggest that when queried about such things, instead of investing one's time and brain cells in doing a short test translation, one offer instead to provide the inquirer with:

(1) samples of earlier products (which the previous clients have approved / not objected their use as such)


(2) references to satisfied customers and clients

That option usually suffices with most inquirers, and that approach also reduces the impact of one's receiving a "test item" that may involve an unfamiliar area, such as a legal, technical, medical or commercial subject.

Alternatively, offer to do a test translation, but only as a paid-for project and undertaken after receipt of a signed work order.

One may also observe that lawyers, as practitioners in their profession and chosen practice areas, are not asked to provide a prospective client with a "test legal opinion" on a document before their services are engaged for pay.



Stephen H. Franke
San Pedro, California

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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:03
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Read the instructions carefully Mar 6, 2006

12 pages of "test translation" is way too much (normal is 200-300, although I would consider up to 800 for very large projects), but if they came with instructions, do read the instructions very carefully, and follow them to the letter: one thing that some companies do (including the software company for which I worked until a few years ago) is to send a larger sample, together with instructions indicating which sections of the text received were to be translated for the test, and which not.

The purpose was to see how well people followed instructions, or even whether they bothered to read them or not... which was at least as valuable information on the candidate as the actual outcome of a translation test.

You wouldn't beleve how many people sent in translations of the whole test piece (instead of only the sections to be translated), because they had either a) not bothered to read the instructions, or b) read them, but disregard them.

Other things that are really not recommended in a test translations: a) translators' notes especially "erudite" ones written with the transparent purpose of trying to show to examiner how much you know, and (much worse!), b) leaving alternate translations in the test translation (like this: " wouldn't believe how many people/persons/translators sent in...").

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Peter Bouillon  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:03
Member (2005)
French to German
+ ...
Try to turn the argument around Mar 6, 2006

Paul Dixon wrote:

A few weeks ago I had the offer of some translation work, and they sent me a sample text to be translated, of some 12 pages. How can I be sure that they are not just trying to get the work done for free?


Why don't you try to turn the argument around? Ask for payment for the test translation. Explain that if you are given the real job later on, you will retroactively discount the test translation fee.


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United States
Local time: 13:03
French to English
Less than 1000 words, though I agree that you set the parameters Mar 6, 2006

Others have already responded on this thread so I probably don't have much new to add, except my agreement that: yes, 12 pages is ridiculous (and likely a free translation) and you definitely set the parameters. I didn't notice whether or not anyone else posted this, but the general rule is that a sample translation should be less than 1000 words. Actually, some translators would say 500 words. I have to admit that every sample translation I have been asked to do has been around 200 - 300 words in length, which someone else posted was normal, and I agree.

Also, the test should probably LOOK LIKE a test. Know what I mean? Some agencies even have a title of "Translation Test", plus the language pair and field, either on the document itself or as the document name. I'm much more comfortable doing one of those than I would be for something that looks like it could potentially be a free translation that they would be trying to scam out of me. Furthermore, they should tell you that there is no real deadline, since, if it's a test, then they should have no actual deadline to return the "test" to anyone else, you know?;)

[Edited at 2006-03-06 15:01]

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MariusV  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:03
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
I think that a test translation cannot be that big Mar 6, 2006

I think that a test translation of 12 pages is just a way to cheat the translator. There are translation agencies who really care for quality a lot, and it is natural that people need to be sure. But normally a test translation is from 1 up to 2 pages. If several areas are involved, people give e.g. half a page for each area (say 4-5 areas x 0,5 page). And even bigger translation agencies (with a best level of reputation) pay for the test translations (some pay a full price, some pay a certain share from the full price, independently from the result).

12 pages - these are 100 per cent freaks who want to have a job done as "a test translation" and later "find problems" in it and have hundreds of reasons as not to pay. If they say 12 pages - say OK, full translation rare, a PO before starting the job, and if you are unhappy about the quality - we do not work for the second time. As simple as that.

Marius Valiukas

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United States
Local time: 13:03
Member (2005)
English to Armenian
+ ...
ridiculous Mar 7, 2006

oh wow 12 pages of test! unbelievable! they will make a fortune on those 12 pages and you will be left with hope to hear from them soon...

i agree 200-300 is more than enough to show your skills

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