Test translations and discussing rates: a waste of everybody's time?
Thread poster: Linda Li

Linda Li
United States
Local time: 15:56
Member (2013)
English to Chinese
Dec 8, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, a very well-known company contacted me to do a free sample for them. I replied that I would be happy to do a sample, however, I told them that I would first have to discuss the translation rate and review their master agreement before doing the test. They never replied back. I did this because there have been instances in the past I passed the test, but then couldn't agree on rate or some terms in contract with the prospective client, so it ended up wasting both of our time.
I believe that I should insist on discussing my rate and reviewing contracts first, but I wonder why some of the companies keep doing things like this, isn't this also wasting their time?


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:56
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Absolutely! Dec 8, 2016

Linda Li wrote:
I believe that I should insist on discussing my rate and reviewing contracts first, but I wonder why some of the companies keep doing things like this, isn't this also wasting their time?

Absolutely my policy. Never a translation test without agreeing a rate, or else a statement that my rate level is an acceptable starting point for negotiation. As for why agencies keep trying... clearly there are still many translators out there doing translation tests blindfolded.


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Hamish Young  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 10:56
Member (2010)
Chinese to English
Totally agree Dec 9, 2016

I have had much the same experience, with some agencies wanting tests done first before any discussion of rates takes place.

Is it time wasting? Of course it is. I would go as far as to say that commissioning a test in the first place is already time wasting on the part of the agency, because in many cases they could save time and money by offering qualified candidates non-urgent small live projects and then having them reviewed (or re-translated if necessary) by a trusted linguist.

It's all part of the game, and you either play along or look for another client if you aren't too desperate. In my experience the well known companies are not the best clients.


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Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:56
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
"Free" samples Dec 9, 2016

You did the right thing. Very often "free samples" turn out to be bidding samples. This was your due diligence.

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:56
English to Portuguese
+ ...
A funny thing happened this week Dec 9, 2016

Hamish Young wrote:

I have had much the same experience, with some agencies wanting tests done first before any discussion of rates takes place.

Is it time wasting? Of course it is.


Now and then I find potentially interesting translation agencies, visit their web sites, and fill in their online application form, when available.

Earlier this week I did it a few times, and one such agency - totally unknown to me until then - required a short test in each language pair or direction. I checked the test, and it was a VERY interesting challenge. I like working with smart people! In fact, I'd like to take one such challenge, and show my translation to a colleague whose competence I trust for some valuable feedback. In short, an unskilled translation would definitely flop, in view of the particular challenges therein. So I took it.

Of course, they don't keep test reviewers idling in the office, so a few days later my test status on their site still shows "pending approval".

Nevertheless, today they sent me a similar test (different text) by another applicant to evaluate! Now I'm getting cold feet from the thought of someone with unknown competence as a linguist being assigned to score my own test.


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Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:56
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Disappointing at some point Dec 9, 2016

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

Now and then I find potentially interesting translation agencies, visit their web sites, and fill in their online application form, when available.

Earlier this week I did it a few times, and one such agency - totally unknown to me until then - required a short test in each language pair or direction. I checked the test, and it was a VERY interesting challenge. I like working with smart people! In fact, I'd like to take one such challenge, and show my translation to a colleague whose competence I trust for some valuable feedback. In short, an unskilled translation would definitely flop, in view of the particular challenges therein. So I took it.

Of course, they don't keep test reviewers idling in the office, so a few days later my test status on their site still shows "pending approval".

Nevertheless, today they sent me a similar test (different text) by another applicant to evaluate! Now I'm getting cold feet from the thought of someone with unknown competence as a linguist being assigned to score my own test.


After the initial fun moment, it becomes disappointing quite soon. Too often test translations are reviewed by someone with little competence where they see thir ultimate objective to make as many "corrections" as they can afford. Well, the issue has been discussed hre in forums many times.

As for test translations, I inform my rates firstly and very often, no test is needed all of a sudden.
However, like José Henrique, I also love challenges.
Thus, somewhat three weeks ago, I suggested myself to start with the tests befor going into further details. The company seems to have some importance in that country, they emply a reference to a wider region in their name and and don't forget to stress out their strive to quality in every their communication.
So I did test translations, in three different language combinations, in three different fields. Passed 'with excellence'.
And then the next step - the rates. They pay their translators 4 to 5 euros per page.
Furthermore, and what puts me aback mostly, is that the translators have to use this agency's internal system to get and upload translations.
That I find the real waste of my time.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:56
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
It's all about wanting ROI Dec 9, 2016

Linda Li wrote:
A couple of weeks ago, a very well-known company contacted me to do a free sample for them. I replied that I would be happy to do a sample, however, I told them that I would first have to discuss the translation rate and review their master agreement before doing the test. They never replied back. I did this because there have been instances in the past I passed the test, but then couldn't agree on rate or some terms in contract with the prospective client

You're absolutely right to do that. Why waste your valuable time chasing jobs that are never going to materialise (at least, not ones that you'd consent to do)?

it ended up wasting both of our time.
I believe that I should insist on discussing my rate and reviewing contracts first, but I wonder why some of the companies keep doing things like this, isn't this also wasting their time?

I doubt that it is, at least not in the long run. They lost a bit in your case , but think about all the other recipients. What percentage will just have done as instructed? How long would the test have taken each of them? And when they'd spent that time and got the good news to say they'd passed, they would probably all, aithout exception, have spent more time filling in detailed information forms to be included on the database. Then there are the agreements: many pages of PDFs to be read, printed, signed, scanned and sent off. How many hours have we got to now? That's a big investment that the freelancer has made in this company, and they'll be wanting to see some return. So are they likely to throw it all away when the first offer comes in, even if it's for half their rate? Maybe they'll negotiate and work for two thirds their normal rate. Maybe they will actually turn down that one, but what about a similar offer three months later, when they've hit a slow patch? No, I think those agencies know exactly what they're doing.


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 21:56
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Totally agree! Dec 10, 2016

For starters I tend to avoid tests, I've got translation qualifications and years of experience (though I must admit that I prefer doing a test than having to fill endless forms and send copies of diplomas for courses I took almost 50 years ago). Nonetheless, in some situations (when I’m really interested on that particular job or that particular client) I’d rather translate a test, regardless of its length (within reason), than provide samples of my work, which I might not be able to do due to NDAs. But first of all let's talk about rates!

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:56
English to Portuguese
+ ...
That's why I do them Dec 10, 2016

Inga Petkelyte wrote:

After the initial fun moment, it becomes disappointing quite soon. Too often test translations are reviewed by someone with little competence where they see thir ultimate objective to make as many "corrections" as they can afford. Well, the issue has been discussed hre in forums many times.


This is why I'll give my honest expert opinion on sample translations, whenever requested, however under two conditions:
a) only to my regular clients; and
b) always for free.

It took ages for me to realize that my habit of having bulletproof policies for most everything in my business - no matter if they remain unwritten - stems from my years in HR management, when I had to write and implement similar policies.

(a) above precludes competition between with the applicant: I've been there, done that over and over again, that newcomer is unknown. If the newbie is good enough, the client will increase their production capacity in our language pair.

(b) eliminates the farfetched possibility of corruption. If the agency paid me something for that assessment, and a shady applicant offered to pay me twice as much to give them a good score, it wouldn't work. 2 x 0 = 0. It wouldn't change anything.

Inga Petkelyte wrote:
However, like José Henrique, I also love challenges.


Taking up challenges was an important factor in developing my career.

In 1983 I began translating and doing DTP on courseware for a training video distributor. In 1987, the CEO/founder there posed me a challenge: Would you like to try translating a video for dubbing?

I took it, he showed me how he did it, I devised my m.o., and delivered. We found an unknown talent in me, like those kids we see now and then who play an instrument without ever having been taught music. A studio assistant there told me, [i]You must be really good at that. The man tried some thirty translators, from the logs I saw that he spent entire nights correcting them thoroughly. Yours was dubbed verbatim as you delivered it, and it came out great!"

Making a long story short, I translated some 600 videos for dubbing, for that client alone (others came later) over a period of 20+ years, as well as the corresponding printed stuff, as before. Once they had me take a shot at translating video for subtitling, but I was the first to notice that it was pretty bad. For the record, all this initial period was in the days of the VHS tape.

In 2004, another client had a series of 28 videos to translate PT>EN for subtitling, the subject being automotive mechanics. He said he had no other choice, no other SME who was used to work on video without a script. So I went online to study subtitling, the concept, the translation techniques.

My first discovery was that video had gone digital. A computer had tools for subtitling that didn't exist in the analog realm. The second discovery was the mainspring of the two translating processes:
a) dubbing required capturing the rhythm of the words for metrics, making perfect lip-sync possible; while
b) subtitling require capturing the rhythm of the phrases or parts thereof, to deliver conciseness, so the spectator would be able to read and understand in the time allotted. And the third discovery was http://www.videohelp.com, where I got the software tools and tutorials I needed.

Again, making a long story short, in about four months I was translating for subtitles at professional level, timing those subs, burning them onto video, and authoring DVDs at all levels of complexity.

So if a challenge comes up, holding the key to the door connecting to a new world, life has taught me to take it!

Of course, there are many doors that I went in, tried it, stepped back, locked, and returned the key.


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Linda Li
United States
Local time: 15:56
Member (2013)
English to Chinese
TOPIC STARTER
Good point Dec 12, 2016


I doubt that it is, at least not in the long run. They lost a bit in your case , but think about all the other recipients. What percentage will just have done as instructed? How long would the test have taken each of them? And when they'd spent that time and got the good news to say they'd passed, they would probably all, aithout exception, have spent more time filling in detailed information forms to be included on the database. Then there are the agreements: many pages of PDFs to be read, printed, signed, scanned and sent off. How many hours have we got to now? That's a big investment that the freelancer has made in this company, and they'll be wanting to see some return. So are they likely to throw it all away when the first offer comes in, even if it's for half their rate? Maybe they'll negotiate and work for two thirds their normal rate. Maybe they will actually turn down that one, but what about a similar offer three months later, when they've hit a slow patch? No, I think those agencies know exactly what they're doing.


This is a good point. It's too bad there are no standard policies or contracts between translators and translation agencies in widespread use. But as you say, agencies have own reasons for conducting things the way they do.


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Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:56
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
A test translation is a 2-way street Dec 12, 2016

What I mean to say is that they test me, and I test them. Therefore I accept a 'test' of no more then 200 words and ask my minimum rate for it (which is more than the test). They can see whether or not I am a good translator, and I can see whether or not they are good payers. What else can I say?

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:56
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Further developments - puzzling at least Dec 14, 2016

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

Earlier this week I did it a few times, and one such agency - totally unknown to me until then - required a short test in each language pair or direction. I checked the test, and it was a VERY interesting challenge. I like working with smart people! In fact, I'd like to take one such challenge, and show my translation to a colleague whose competence I trust for some valuable feedback. In short, an unskilled translation would definitely flop, in view of the particular challenges therein. So I took it.

Of course, they don't keep test reviewers idling in the office, so a few days later my test status on their site still shows "pending approval".

Nevertheless, today they sent me a similar test (different text) by another applicant to evaluate! Now I'm getting cold feet from the thought of someone with unknown competence as a linguist being assigned to score my own test.


I passed the test, obviously having no idea on who scored it.
And so far they have sent me four tests to grade.

No, I'm NOT the kind that will flunk all others because I think I'm the best. Also, I'd rather be part of a competent TEAM than the only possible option, so I wouldn't fail them just to grab all the jobs they may have in my pair.

However I was shocked from what I saw. Who told these people they were prepared to translate anything?

My instructions there said that "If you notice that automatic machine translation was used, simply assign the lowest possible score on all criteria."

Well, I diligently shot the source text through Google Translate, and its raw output was actually BETTER than three of those submissions!

This agency seems to pay decent rates. So who's wasting time with tests here?

While I am skeptical about translation tests, as they may be unduly improved by "ghosts" on the way, in this case they are being used to screen out completely unacceptable candidates. I never expected that "tranzlaters" whose output is worse than machine translation to submit it, believing that it would be possible to pull the wool over the eyes of professionals who make a living from selling such services.


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Texte Style
Local time: 22:56
French to English
tranzlaters Dec 14, 2016

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

Well, I diligently shot the source text through Google Translate, and its raw output was actually BETTER than three of those submissions!

I never expected that "tranzlaters" whose output is worse than machine translation to submit it, believing that it would be possible to pull the wool over the eyes of professionals who make a living from selling such services.


Sadly, this has happened to me. When I was working in-house, a PM asked me to write a report on a translation that the client was refusing to pay for it, accusing the translator of using Google. The PM specifically said to defend the translation, she didn't want me to be objective. I wrote back apologising for my conscience that prevented me from defending such rubbish. But I could at least reassure the client that it was not Google output, because there were TOO MANY SPELLING MISTAKES.
Google produces gobbledegook but the gobbledegook is spelled correctly.

I have a whole pile of hilarious translation mistakes, a lot gleaned from translation tests.
For a good translator, it may seem like a waste of time. Believe me, it is not. There are loads of people out there trying to wing it as a translator. Luckily they get weeded out by these tests.

And also, some agencies now employ "Vendor Managers" whose job it is to find translators in every possible language pair, whether or not there is any work in these pairs, so that PMs have a contact if ever something does come in.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:56
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Referrals and the slush pile Dec 15, 2016

Texte Style wrote:

And also, some agencies now employ "Vendor Managers" whose job it is to find translators in every possible language pair, whether or not there is any work in these pairs, so that PMs have a contact if ever something does come in.


Few agencies seem to rely on referrals. Some translators - yours truly among them - are well networked. If asked, I can quickly refer colleagues whose qualification/competence in language pairs and specialized subject areas, though different from mine, I can definitely recommend.

Most recommendations I've made so far have resulted in lasting business partnerships. Some clients come to me first, to check if I'd have anyone to recommend for some unusual translation request.

On the other hand, many agencies, instead of having an online application that feeds directly into a database, ask prospective vendors to e-mail their CVs to "hr/CV/info-at-whatever", so they'll electronically land on what book publishers, movie producers, and literary agents call "the slush pile". They will be read when business is so disparagingly bad that there's nothing else left to do that makes people feel like "working".


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