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Translator tests: what makes you put in 100% effort
Thread poster: Trevor Butcher

Trevor Butcher
Local time: 16:51
English
Sep 6, 2006

Hi,

A part of my job involves grading texts done by translators who want to work for the agency where I work, but the level of returned texts is generally very poor. We have put some effort into keeping the texts short and relevant, but we are really stuck for ideas when we get a text back, grade it as poor and then the translator says that they would like to do it again as some event (moving home, ill family member, etc.) stopped them from doing a good job the first time. We find it very discouraging as it means extra work for us - especially when about 50% ask to do a retest

Whatever promises we make during the contact we try to keep, and we certainly do no do anything as unprofessional as to use the texts for anything other than as a test.

What I would like to discover is what kind of things that you think agencies do that either encourages you to do your best on a test, or what would make you just knock something off quickly in the belief that the agencies quality check is poor.

We have thought of adding stats that indicate how many translators we reject on top of the ones we give that indicate likely work volumes.

Trevor

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2006-09-06 15:44]


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Phyllis Mitzman
Local time: 10:51
Dutch to English
Two responses Sep 6, 2006

I can respond to your query both as a translator who has taken tests and an agency person who has developed them and sends and receives them from translators.
1) As a translator, I always put in 100% effort on doing a test, and never assume it won't be looked at carefully. I don't know what it would take to motivate a translator who doesn't have this approach, but I wouldn't worry about it either. Assume a translator who doesn't do his/her best on a short test probably will not do it on a translation assignment either.
2) As an agency representative, I have found that translators who return the short tests promptly (within a day or two) and take care when doing them are generally the ones who pass. My agency has a policy not to re-test a translator who fails the test for at least a year. If the translator says that the subject is not one they usually do, we'll send them a different test or invite them to provide a sample of their own. The excuse that they were too busy, or whatever, is a non-excuse. They should have asked for extra time to complete the test (which some do, and are always given it). One of the dangers with translators who do not fulfill their commitments or fulfill them poorly on a test is that they probably will not behave any differently on a real translation assignment.


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:51
German to English
+ ...
Targeting the wrong people? Sep 6, 2006

Who are you targeting with your calls for translators? If you pay at the low end of the market, that might just be what you get. No real professional will just "knock something out" if they really want to work for you, but real professionals come at a price.

If you can pay at the higher end of the range for your languages and subject matter (otherwise it won't be worth the effort), I would suggest a strategy of targeting specific translators from directories like ProZ and discussion groups with your invitations to submit an application.

Start reading translators' discussion lists for various languages (if possible) and subject areas - this might give you an idea of who the good translators are for various language pairs and subject areas. Test them on their subject areas only. Do specific searches in ProZ. This would enable you to build up more specialized lists of good translators for, say, Polish>English technical, English>Polish financial, etc.

Hope that helps and good luck.

PS I agree with everything Phyllis said, too!

[Edited at 2006-09-06 13:55]


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Mary Lalevee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:51
French to English
I also review tests Sep 6, 2006

Hi there Trevor,

I have been reviewing tests for translators (F/E- legal) for a number of years now and it is depressing how few of them are any good at all.

I would say 1 out of 25 is a possible, with 1 out of 50 turning out to be an excellent translator.

I just cannot believe what people write in the tests sometimes, there are spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes, sentences that make no sense at all, etc etc.

It seems like you have to throw the net very wide to get enough candidates and you just hope that one or two will be good.

I don't accept excuses for a retest by the way. If there was a problem, they should have said so from the start.

Good luck in your hunt!

Mary


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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:51
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
Do it right the first time Sep 6, 2006

I put the same amount of effort and care in a test that I put in my regular daily translations. My main motivation is to do things right the first time and reflect my professionalism, knowledge, skills, and dedication in everything I do.

With regard to Daina’s opinion, I have never been told the rates before I take the tests. However, in case you do, maybe you should send the test first and discuss rates later. And as for those who ask for a second chance, don’t extend them a courtesy that they did not extend to you. Any responsible person who foresees a problem to finish on time will communicate with you and ask for an extension.


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Ford Prefect  Identity Verified
Burkina Faso
Local time: 14:51
German to English
+ ...
... Sep 6, 2006

Put your source text through babelfish and compare to the tests you get back. It's hardly credible, but there's always at least one person who thinks they can get away with babelfish plus minor editing. Presumably if they bid low enough, they must get work this way too.

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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 17:51
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
You might try a test yourself Sep 6, 2006

Hope you pass!
Most colleagues complain, that after a test they never hear about the result, or even if they pass they do not recieve any jobs.
These days it seems only unexperienced people do unpaid translation tests.
You didn't mention if you have natives or non-natives for your tests.
Giving out chunks of text for a test with a short deadline of 2 days sounds a suspicious practice. I would turn in a translation with at least half of the last sentence missing, so you could not use the test as part of a bigger job.

Regards
Heinrich

[Bearbeitet am 2006-09-06 23:52]


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Sonia Hill
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:51
Italian to English
Rates Sep 6, 2006

I always ask about rates before doing a translation test, and do not agree with Luisa that you should discuss rates afterwards. I wouldn't do a test if I didn't know the potential rate of pay, as it might prove to be a waste of my time.

I only accept tests occasionally, if it's a job I'm really interested in. You may find it better to test likely translators by means of small paid jobs or ask for a sample translation.


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Claudia Krysztofiak  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:51
English to German
+ ...
Spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes ... Sep 6, 2006

okay, I can see that this would discourage you.

Regarding the content: If you make a test as short as possible, there is hardly enough context to do a sensible translation.

If you ask for test translations that are not part of a project and are not paid, why would you think translators who have to earn their livings would waste their time in doing such a test, unless they are new to the business or have no other way to prove their abilities?

Even more so since many translators who did tests did never hear from the agencies again or about this urgent huge job they had to do the test for. Or they were turned down (did not pass the test), without being told why. Or they received tests back with half of the so-called errors being quite arguable.

You might try to find another way to motivate a good translator to work for you. Put more effort in the search from the beginning, for example. Then you may come up with a handful of suitable professionals. And then you can offer them a short paid project. Of course, if you only start looking when time's up for your project it might be a little to late.


By the way: Is it true that the title of this topic first was:
Translaotr tests?


[Bearbeitet am 2006-09-06 15:52]


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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:51
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
True, several cheaters do that Sep 6, 2006

Screaming Lord Sutch wrote:

Put your source text through babelfish and compare to the tests you get back. It's hardly credible, but there's always at least one person who thinks they can get away with babelfish plus minor editing. Presumably if they bid low enough, they must get work this way too.


Very true, I received at least three different tests that were done mostly wth babelfish. It boggles the mind.


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Lucinda  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:51
Member (2002)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Test Translations Sep 6, 2006

This is only from a translator's point of view. I don't really like to do them - especially the unpaid ones. And I usually don't do them. I keep my self quite busy and a translation test cuts into the time I would otherwise spend on a paying customer.

But, if I do a test, it usually is for:
1. An agency or direct client I really want to work for. Their good reputation is well-known and I want to be a part of their team. Their work is in my field of expertise, etc.

2. The test is part of a real (not I promise you that you will get a lot of work at an unspecified time in the future. Bla-bla-bla) larger job or set of subsequent jobs. They have a reputation that shows that they actually have these jobs and it is not a 'pie in the sky' thing.

Then I do my utmost to deliver the best job, as if my life depended on it. I usually determine the lenght of the test if they are too long in my opinion. For a very good client, I did a 1000 word test and I still work for them on a regular basis. Usually, I keep them at max. 300 wds.

Retesting is not an option. If you cannot do the original test - for whatever reason, either ask to postpone it or decline to do the test.

Good luck!
Lucinda


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Jörgen Slet  Identity Verified
Estonia
Local time: 17:51
English to Estonian
+ ...
A paid test in the form of a short job Sep 6, 2006

At the beginning of my career when I just started to promote my services and look for jobs, I sometimes spent hours over a small test, refining it to perfection. Very little paid work, in fact even very little feedback has come out of all those efforts however. These days I rarely do tests at all, as I have very little time, and I know that most tests do not bring in work.

I have however noticed that before giving me large high-profile assignments, some agencies first approach me with a short, low-priority job. I suspect these are their alternative for tests, and "tests" like this are likely to bring in a higher proportion of skilled and experienced translators, instead of the less-skilled beginners that are attracted to unpaid tests.


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Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 20:21
English to Hindi
+ ...
Testing Sep 6, 2006

phyllis mitzman wrote:

I can respond to your query both as a translator who has taken tests and an agency person who has developed them and sends and receives them from translators.
1) As a translator, I always put in 100% effort on doing a test, and never assume it won't be looked at carefully. I don't know what it would take to motivate a translator who doesn't have this approach, but I wouldn't worry about it either. Assume a translator who doesn't do his/her best on a short test probably will not do it on a translation assignment either.
2) As an agency representative, I have found that translators who return the short tests promptly (within a day or two) and take care when doing them are generally the ones who pass. My agency has a policy not to re-test a translator who fails the test for at least a year. If the translator says that the subject is not one they usually do, we'll send them a different test or invite them to provide a sample of their own. The excuse that they were too busy, or whatever, is a non-excuse. They should have asked for extra time to complete the test (which some do, and are always given it). One of the dangers with translators who do not fulfill their commitments or fulfill them poorly on a test is that they probably will not behave any differently on a real translation assignment.


I personally find *free testing* obnoxious. I seem to observe from experience that the companies which ask you for tests never seem to give you work but those who give you work, looking at references/CV etc are the ones who will keep on giving you work!!!

But I did encounter one agency which got me to do a small test and paid me for it though they haven't come back to me for a job. Perhaps, they didnt get it but I found that impressive.

Also... I find it highly undesirable that an agency should expect you to do a free test and then do it in a rush. What do agencies think? Are translators free and really grovelling for work?

No. They aren't.

Roomy


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Claire Titchmarsh  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:51
Italian to English
+ ...
Depressing reflection of reality Sep 6, 2006

As various people have already said in this thread, it is extremely difficult to find a good translator, so it's hardly surprising that many of the tests you receive are only bin fodder.

Just my 10p worth:

1. Translation tests are usually short excerpts from a longer document, which can make it hard to see the big picture and increases the risk of terminology errors etc., especially for an inexperienced translator (I would argue that most of the people who do translation tests on a regular basis are looking to get established and therefore cannot draw on years of experience).

2. If you want real motivation you have to pay people. It's just human nature. At the very least, give them a guaranteed assignment, i.e. "if this test is successful we have a big project starting on Monday".

I never do translation tests any more. Although I have had several positive responses about the tests I did, none of the agencies for which I did them regularly send me work. All of my existing clients were people who phoned me up and got an idea of where I was coming from over the phone (an interview will tell you just as much as a translation test, if you ask the right questions). And you don't have to spend hours reviewing it afterwards. One agency asked me to send in samples of my work, and that really got me motivated, searching through files and files to find my best translation in that particular field.


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Magda Dziadosz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 16:51
Member (2004)
English to Polish
+ ...
Why a translator would ever do an unpaid test? Sep 6, 2006

I think the answer to this question may lead to the answer to yours. Tests are usually done by newcomers to the business who only start to build a customer base, do not have references and have little experience. Established translator with good references is usually also busy and in most cases won't be even interested in doing unpaid tests just to be included in some database with only remote possibility of being contacted.

In my opinion tests are only useful if you are aiming to recruit young and inexperienced - perhaps to train them or you need them to perform some support tasks, but if you look for established translators, you should rather check their references and review samples and published works.

My personal experience with tests is that agencies which require a test usually also offer very low rates which further confirms that they are indeed looking for starters.

My 2 gr,
Magda

PS You may also find a recent interesting discussion (and a poll) in this topic: http://www.proz.com/topic/51996



[Edited at 2006-09-06 21:46]


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