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norms for translation tests
Thread poster: Thomas Johansson

Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 08:32
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
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Sep 14, 2006

I've recently had an increasing number of requests for translation tests coming in. Some I've accepted. I put a lot of work into them, feel really content with the result, but many times my translations have not been accepted in the end. Even though I am certain that my translations have been perfectly fine.

My general feeling is that there is a general abuse of the possibility to ask for test translations among businesses (and maybe also agencies). For instance, I would not be surprised if a business who is looking for a translator asks several agencies - not just one - to find one for them; and that each agency in turn asks some 50 different translators to make the test - even though they easily could have limited themselves to a smaller number. And so on.

It is simply too easy to ask translators for free test translations, I feel.

So I am looking for ways to ensure a more responsible attitude towards test translations on part of businesses and (perhaps) also agencies.

As a step in this direction, I am thinking of putting together a draft of proposals regarding "norms and practices" around test translations. I would like to hear what comments people may have about this idea.

The idea is that individual translators, agencies, and clients should be able to refer to such a norm as a basis for their collaborations around test translations. Overall, the norm should ensure responsible practices among agencies and businesses, and that translators get a fair treatment.

What content should the norm include? Maybe for instance something about a minimum symbolic fee for each test. Any suggestions are welcome. In general, I would be interested to hear what sorts of expectations people would have on a fully responsible treatment of a test translation they make, and what stipulations of norms would be a step towards ensuring such treatment.

Thomas Johansson

[Edited at 2006-09-14 03:05]


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Sophia Hundt  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:32
Russian to English
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Paid tests Sep 14, 2006

I think one should ask for payment (in number of words to be translated) before agreeing to do the test. In other words, agencies should be paying for tests. That's one way to insure that a business or agency will be hesitant to ask for test translations from more people than they can handle checking.

Who are you going to give your proposal to, by the way?




[Edited at 2006-09-14 03:07]


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 08:32
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
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I´ll post it somewhere on the net Sep 14, 2006

Sophia Hundt wrote:

Who are you going to give your proposal to, by the way?




[Edited at 2006-09-14 03:07]


I think a practical procedure is that I put together a draft, post it somewhere here for comments, then improve it as much as possible, then post the result somewhere and a message with the link here, and then see what happens... If people and agencies like it, they can refer to it directly; or what I hope is that some translators associations, or maybe why not this site, will pick up on the idea and maybe develop it further and eventually put out their own version.


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Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:32
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You can set your own rules. Sep 14, 2006

You're right that it's easy to ask translators for free translation tests. It's just as easy to ask them for automobiles or houses. The fact that you've been asked for something puts you under no obligation to provide it.

Some replies you can give:
a) I'm sorry, I don't have time for unpaid tests. However, I'm quite willing to translate this for $X.
b) If the need is to show I'm competent, I can provide some samples of texts I've translated.
c) Here is my resume. What would you like to discuss about it?

The people who ask you might not like these responses. However, they may not have been serious in the first place.

I think your scenario about a company hiring an agency to find a full-time translator for them is a bit farfetched. If the agency had a full-time job to offer, they'd advertise it as such and get people who are actually interested in a full-time job. Many free-lance translators aren't (or perhaps they already have full-time jobs in another field that they don't want to quit). And many agencies are reluctant to pass on the contact information for their translators to end clients (or even the translators' names). Sending out tests blind doesn't seem to be an efficient way of doing things.

You are welcome to write standards. But they're likely to remain Thomas Johansson's standards and it's questionable whether anyone else will pay them any heed. I think you're better off writing "Thomas Johansson's standard practices" and sticking to them.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 19:02
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
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Standards won't work in our industry Sep 14, 2006

Although I agree this is a genuine need, I have doubts that standards can be enforced in our industry. Who will enforce them? Translators are all an independent lot answerable only to their own self interests. So the best way to enforce any desirable norm is to point out the advantages of following that norm. This is more an area of education and awareness generation, and just posting the norms/standards at some place on the net won't be sufficient. A sustained campaign would be required which would be beyond the capability of an individual translator.

That doesn't mean it cannot be done. But the question is it worth the time and efforts?

Most translators realize over time what test translations are all about and develop their own norms about how to tackle them. Some agencies too do the same. For example, I know of several agencies that treat test translations as just jobs and pay at their usual rates.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 15:32
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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Is it ethical to treat test as non-confidential? Sep 14, 2006

Thomas Johansson wrote:
As a step in this direction, I am thinking of putting together a draft of proposals regarding "norms and practices" around test translations. I would like to hear what comments people may have about this idea.


I wonder how widespread test-abuse really is. We've all heard that it's possible, but how many of us have proof of such a thing taking place regularly?

However, if it is widespread, here are some things one could do to limit test-abuse:

* Refuse to do test translations of confidential texts, and reserve the right to contact other translators to determine if test-abuse is taking place.

* Demand that the client gives you a list of other translators who also do the test, so that you can contact them to see if test-abuse is taking place.

That said, let's first determine whether test-abuse is widespread.

What content should the norm include?


Some things to ponder:

* Does the translator have the right to expect the client to tell him specifically why his test has been rejected if it had been rejected (including a proofread version faxed to the translator)?

* Does the translator have the right to publish the test and its accompanying translation on his web site as part of his portfolio (if he keeps the identity of the client secret)?


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 15:32
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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Pilot standards are pilots for standards Sep 14, 2006

Balasubramaniam wrote:
I have doubts that standards can be enforced in our industry. Who will enforce them? Translators are all an independent lot answerable only to their own self interests.


A norm document like this published on the internet can act as pilot document from which a national translators' association can draft their own policy document, which can be enforced upon its members.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 15:32
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
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What content should the norm include? - Habeas corpus Sep 14, 2006

One thing is definitely a Habeas corpus: the tester must, in a reasonable amount of time, come back and contact the testee with his or her decision and be ready to defend / support it.

Which of course brings in legislation - i.e. rules that both parties agree to... Quite some work ahead;)

[Edited at 2006-09-14 09:25]


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Claudia Luque Bedregal  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:32
English to Spanish
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better to set your own rules Sep 14, 2006

Hi Thomas,

I agree with Paul about setting your own rules, and that's what I do, too. I've done a few translation tests and I don't charge (although it's not a bad idea, especially if the client/agency gives you pages and pages to translate), but I first send my CV and also offer short samples of previous works I've done (protecting my clients of course, being careful not to reveal confidential information, etc.), and if after all that they still want the translation/sample test I accept but first I set a limit of words, I don't accept if they send me a whole document to translate because it's obvious that they want a free translation.

The first time I did a sample test I guess they got their free translation :-/ because they made me translate a two-page power of attorney from Spanish into Italian, and then I didn't get the job. Perhaps they weren't honest people and wanted a free translation, perhaps they found someone who did a better trabnslation, I don't know. But after that, I decided to be more careful and set my own rules to prevent this from happening again.

I agree also with Vito when he says that if one accept to do a test, the examiner should always give you feedback on your results, either positive or negative, and you should get the right to defend your work. I've always ask for feedback and fortunately I've always got it.

It's not easy perhaps, but if you set your own rules or standards, the clients or agencies that want to do business with you will know what to expect.

A document on norms and practices on this subject is a good idea and it might work if some translation association publish it and tries to enforce it among its members, like Samuel says, but it might take time for that to work. I think it's a long-term solution. So I suggest that you set your own rules and you'll see that things will be better for you, that it will work faster, and the general abuse will be reduced.

Good luck and regards!
Claudia


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:32
Member (2002)
German to English
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Broad-based norms Sep 15, 2006

Hi Thomas,

I don't think we can be too specific, in creating a norm, but something like "test translations require to be paid for, at a rate to be agreed with the translator" would be fine, and also a stipulation regarding the number of words (I suggest 250 - 450 words). Although the test could be any length if it is paid for at the normal commercial rate, maybe some people have no idea how long a test should be, so it is not a bad idea to make a suggestion.

Just these two rules would be enough, I think. If you need to add anything, it should be that the source text must be of good quality, namely grammatically correct, without any errors. It should also be of good quality technically, and not be one of those famous source texts that crashes the computer.

Astrid


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 08:32
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
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reply Sep 15, 2006

Paul Merriam wrote:

You're right that it's easy to ask translators for free translation tests. It's just as easy to ask them for automobiles or houses. The fact that you've been asked for something puts you under no obligation to provide it.


Of course, you're under no obligation to provide a test translation. The point is just that sometimes you agree to do so, and we need norms in the branch that guarantee that you get a fair treatment when you do.


[Edited at 2006-09-15 22:31]


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 08:32
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English to Swedish
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misunderstanding of what is going on Sep 15, 2006

Paul Merriam wrote:

I think your scenario about a company hiring an agency to find a full-time translator for them is a bit farfetched. If the agency had a full-time job to offer, they'd advertise it as such and get people who are actually interested in a full-time job. Many free-lance translators aren't (or perhaps they already have full-time jobs in another field that they don't want to quit). And many agencies are reluctant to pass on the contact information for their translators to end clients (or even the translators' names). Sending out tests blind doesn't seem to be an efficient way of doing things.



This is not at all what I meant. A company needs translations for some potential big job or long-term working relation. It contacts 20 agencies and tells them that if they can show that they have a suitable translator, they will get the business. Each agency in turn asks 20 translators to do a test. The tests are either evaluated by the client or someone hired by the client for this task. The agency that provides the "winning" translator wins the contract and gets the business; the contact info of the translator is never passed on.


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 08:32
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
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there are common expectations; norms exist in all branches Sep 15, 2006

Paul Merriam wrote:

You are welcome to write standards. But they're likely to remain Thomas Johansson's standards and it's questionable whether anyone else will pay them any heed. I think you're better off writing "Thomas Johansson's standard practices" and sticking to them.


There exist millions of norms and standards around the world and for all sorts of matters and in all branches. They typically never reflect the interests or preferences of a particular individual, but have been created to reflect general needs within the branch in question. Why should this not be possible within the translations business as well? My proposal is that norms representing general needs around test translations within our branch are created. My own effort would be just a step in the direction to get this happening. Others are more than welcome to jon in drafting the proposal. I see no reason why no one else would pay heed to a good proposal in this respect. Whereas currently each translator sets his/her own standards and applies them individually in their various communications with agencies and companies, I think there are a set of more or less common parameters in our expectations around test translations, and the purpose of the proposal would be to encode these parameters.

[Edited at 2006-09-15 22:33]

[Edited at 2006-09-15 22:33]


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 08:32
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
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it's a gradual process Sep 15, 2006

Samuel Murray wrote:

Balasubramaniam wrote:
I have doubts that standards can be enforced in our industry. Who will enforce them? Translators are all an independent lot answerable only to their own self interests.


A norm document like this published on the internet can act as pilot document from which a national translators' association can draft their own policy document, which can be enforced upon its members.


I agree.

But there is also the informal "enforcement" happening as a gradual process. The more people start referring to some specific norms, the more people (agencies and companies) will be interested in applying them. Also, if the norms are reasonable, it will gradually be more difficult for agencies and companies to refuse the norms, since doing so would suggest that they´re probably not very serious.

[Edited at 2006-09-15 22:34]


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Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 08:32
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English to Swedish
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just something simple to start with Sep 15, 2006

Vito Smolej wrote:

Which of course brings in legislation - i.e. rules that both parties agree to... Quite some work ahead;)

[Edited at 2006-09-14 09:25]


I think in the beginning the important thing is to just have a short list of norms, stated simply, so that anyone can look over the list in a minute or two and quickly decide whether they agree or not.

Conflicting interpretations are likely to occur sometimes, but not to the extent that we need to have a full legal document format to be able to start this process off.

[Edited at 2006-09-15 22:36]


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