Advice on doing test translations
Thread poster: Medved

Local time: 16:11
English to Russian
+ ...
Dec 18, 2001

All too often we face a dilemma whether to do a free ‘test’ translation or not. Such offers are received from both the agencies and the customers where the underlying principle is the same: “Do something for me free, but never dare you to expect a ‘feedback’ “. Only recently when browsing the Inet just for the heck of it I came across the answers. And they do cover all my questions in this respect. Thanks to the courtesy of Pavel Protopopov now we all may know how to do with and what to say to that smart bunch of free jobs hunters. Just watch the link:

You may agree or disagree but from now on I take it as the ruling doctrine in my negotiations with ‘cheap’ buyers.

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Mats Wiman  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:11
Member (2000)
German to Swedish
+ ...

Never do a test translation! Dec 18, 2001

An agency or customer demanding a test translation shows too little intelligence for me to feel the trust necessary for entering into a business relation.

All my good partners never asked for one. The tested me instead.


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Nicole Worbis
Local time: 15:11
English to German
Test translations - why not? Dec 18, 2001

I have to say that I disagree with Mats. I have done test translations for all my clients, since it is impossible for you to get jobs in subtitling without doing test translations. I just think that you shouldn\'t be asked to do too much. A few lines should be enough.

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Vladimir Dubisskiy  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:11
Member (2001)
English to Russian
+ ...
absolutely right Dec 19, 2001


On 2001-12-18 16:20, MatsWiman wrote:

An agency or customer demanding a test translation shows too little intelligence for me to feel the trust necessary for entering into a business relation.

All my good partners never asked for one. The tested me instead.


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:11
English to German
+ ...
Agree - to some extent... Dec 19, 2001

I\'m always a bit suspicious regarding the use of concepts like \"never\"...

But I have to agree (and here I wear my \"agency hat\"...) that a test translation doesn\'t prove a lot. I tend to use new colleagues (=those I haven\'t worked with before) for smaller, less \"mission-critical\" jobs, which are of course paid for. I do, however, reserve the right to make ex-post deductions if the quality doesn\'t live up to the promise. A risk worth taking for both sides, I guess.

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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 09:11
Excerpts: reasonable and beneficial to both sides Dec 19, 2001

Generalized tests are of limited value. Certainly, one should not translate tests that are exceptionally long without being paid.

But assuming the job being discussed is of a reasonable length, isn\'t translating a 50-100 word excerpt a fair bargain? As a translator, you get some sense of the content and quality of the original (turn it down if it is messy or outside of your areas of expertise). And the agency or client gets some sense of the quality of your work.

If you charge rates that are higher than average, one good way to win new clients is by proving your work to be superior.

As a translator, I sought opportunities to show my translation ability, because I was not interested in having clients who did not care about quality--it will be difficult to retain them long-term.

I got my first translation job by completing an excerpt in person, and won three other clients in two years with sample texts.

Be wary of agencies that overtest. But also be wary of agencies that do not thoroughly qualify!

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Tony M  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:11
French to English
+ ...
My own policy Dec 8, 2008

As a general principle, I don't do translation tests.

I have rarely (if indeed ever) been given any work as a direct result of doing one; and yet I have had plenty of work from other agencies, and long-standing relationships with some of them for a number of years. So the lack of work would maybe seem to say more about the prospective customer than about my work!

However, where I am contacted by an agency in connection with a specific job, I do sometimes make an exception, particularly if it is a job that especially interests me.

But today, I came across a situation that really took the biscuit!

A young and apparently inexperienced PM (she was being prompted in the background) rang me and asked if I could do a test for a prospective future job. I said that I might be prepared to, but asked for more details of the job — for one thing, there was no point in delaying the project I'm currently working on in order to do a test if it turns out that I couldn't fit the translation job in anyway. This 'future' job in fact turned out to be a fairly urgent, immediate one: 7k words in around 36 hours.

I explained that I would only be able to fit that volume in if I started work on it right away, and that if I had to do a test, submit it, wait for it to be approved, and then wait for the go ahead to do the actual translation, then there wouldn't be enough time left to actually do it!

But she insisted, so I said OK, but to let me see the prospective translation job at the same time, so that I could tell if it was within my capacities or not (since she had failed to give me the slightest information about it, save that it was "technical"). This she refused, saying they weren't prepared to release details of the job unless they were actually going to assign it to me. She then explained that even the translation test wasn't an extract from the actual project in question!

At this point, I was about to bid her good evening and hang up... only she beat me to it!

Of course I completely understand that an agency is reluctant to give away details of a job to just anyone; but at the same time, why on earth should I be expected to waste my time doing a test when I don't even know if I would be able to take on the project if I were offered it? I really think there does have to be an element of mutual trust on both sides...

There is also a quality issue here: suppose I have put myself out to do the test and been assigned the project, only to then find that it is way outside my capacities. Of course the proper professional thing to do is to alert them at once and refuse the assignment; but having already invested precious time and effort into doing the test, I'm sure a lot of people would be more likely to say "Oh too bad, I'll just do the best I can!" — so although one might have been accepted on the strength of a successful test (in a different field), one might still make a dog's breakfast of the actual job itself! So what exactly has the test proved?

The most fruitful and long-standing collaborations I have were all based initially on the building up of mutual trust and respect through a succession of small, non-mission-critical paid jobs, until I had proved my worth.

[Edited at 2008-12-08 17:48 GMT]

[Edited at 2008-12-08 18:06 GMT]

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Emma Gledhill
Local time: 15:11
German to English
+ ...
yebbut... nobbut... Dec 16, 2008

I tend to follow my gut feel on this in any given case and also my rule of thumb which is that if an agency is acting on its own behalf in seeking me out, then my professional qualifications should be enough, I've already been tested by two professional associations. On the other hand, if the test is imposed by the end client and is a means to help the agency - and hence me - to get the job, then it's worth half an hour of my time.

one good way to win new clients is by proving your work to be superior.

This is a good point, regardless of what you charge. Obviously there are some outfits that will be wanting to get all their work done for free under the guise of a "test" but I would venture they are in the minority. Ultimately, however good your CV is, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and if you're any good, then a test can be a good opportunity to prove that you're better than alternate choices of supplier and in the process put you at the top of the calling list.

An example: I was contacted out of the blue about four weeks ago by a company - not a direct client but for whom translation is something of a bolt-on service related to their core service - to do a test. The company was going to get the job regardless, the only question was who would do the actual work, but my gut told me to do the test anyway. I didn't get the job they were initially quoting for as the end client decided on a cheaper option, but I have had a constant and voluminous flow of work from these people ever since as they were so happy with what I produced - and at the highest indirect rate I've ever been able to charge. Was that worth half an hour of my time FOC? You bet it was.

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