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Test translations - what is reasonable?
Thread poster: Katarina Lindve

Katarina Lindve  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 05:28
English to Swedish
+ ...
Jan 22, 2010

Since I started using Proz I have been sent a number of test translations from various companies, asking me to first do this test translation and promising to get back to me later. The translations have been all from short extracts to full blown projects with trados-memory included and multipage instructions.

I might have a suspicious mind about this but I have sometimes wondered if not some of these are from comppanies who live on getting free translations. Only some companies offer to pay for the test translations but if they offer to pay for the test I also think they are serious, the same for companies who do not have a deadline for the test.

Strangely enough, my best business partners in translations have never asked for a test translation, instead it is my CV and my references that gave me the first jobs and after that I have been working steadily for the companies.

Regarding these test translations, not very much has happened more than I have been but on a list for future cooperation but it always seems to boil down to price per source word.

I would like to hear, and discuss, how to do in these circumstances - is there a problem with so called "test translations" - another translation site actually warned against some companies for doing exactly this so I guess this is a real problem.

Should not the industry try to steer this up somewhat? Or is it a buyers market only?


 

Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:28
English to Japanese
+ ...
Nothing is reasonable Jan 22, 2010

lindve wrote:

Since I started using Proz I have been sent a number of test translations from various companies, asking me to first do this test translation and promising to get back to me later. The translations have been all from short extracts to full blown projects with trados-memory included and multipage instructions.

I might have a suspicious mind about this but I have sometimes wondered if not some of these are from comppanies who live on getting free translations. Only some companies offer to pay for the test translations but if they offer to pay for the test I also think they are serious, the same for companies who do not have a deadline for the test.

Strangely enough, my best business partners in translations have never asked for a test translation, instead it is my CV and my references that gave me the first jobs and after that I have been working steadily for the companies.

Regarding these test translations, not very much has happened more than I have been but on a list for future cooperation but it always seems to boil down to price per source word.

I would like to hear, and discuss, how to do in these circumstances - is there a problem with so called "test translations" - another translation site actually warned against some companies for doing exactly this so I guess this is a real problem.

Should not the industry try to steer this up somewhat? Or is it a buyers market only?


I understand you concern, and 20+ experience in this industry, test translations led me to nowhere. 99.9% out of the time, you don't hear from them. Recently, there was one agency who asked me to do a test translation, and I declined due to the reasons that I don't get feedback at all, but they insisted that if I don't take it, I wouldn't be considered as a candidate for an on-going project which they are handling right now.

So, I decided to take the test, which the deadline was set, and delivered it within their proposed deadline. However, after two weeks, three weeks, two months, nothing from them. So I wrote to the PM who asked me to do the test about the results, and she told me that she would check with the validator. And it was already past 4 months since I first took the test, and it took another week to validate my ability. They told me that I have passed the test, but I haven't heard from them since then.

Of course, like you wrote above, paid tests are different story. Whether you get a feedback or not, at least you get paid what you delivered for. So you could in one way, call it a small job, and I don't object to that.

Even if the agency is honest enough to provide feedback to the translators for the test translations conducted, if the end client doesn't comment whether the translation was acceptable or not, it's impossible for us to know the results.

Free test translations are a waste of time, unless you have nothing else to do and consider it as a pro-bono translation.


 

PCovs
Denmark
Local time: 05:28
Member (2003)
English to Danish
+ ...
Max around 250 words for me Jan 22, 2010

I have a limit, non-negotiable, of around 250 words for a free test. This should suffice, and if the client does not agree, I just look for someone else. No TM would ever be delivered, nor unclean files in such cases - this is after all a translation test.

This way I avoid wasting too much time in case this is not a legit client, and a dudgy client would only have a very small translation for free.
One could also simply insist on being paid for such a test.

I think this is what it boils down to: translators must learn to stand their ground on such matters and stop buying into stuff like: we will give you lots of work if you just do this 1500 words test for free now. BS

We, the translators, are the only ones who can keep such scams down to a minimum (and keep prices on a decent level), but we must quit this underdog notion and start demanding that our terms and conditions (including payment terms) must be met.

We alone are responsible for the weird and dissatisfactory terms and conditions imposed by clients we sometimes come across, because we accept e.g. a payment term of 90 days EOM, which could in reality mean that we get paid after 4 months, or we naively accept to do a free test with TM and the works of 1000+ words or something!

And as always the argument will sound something like: if we don't do this, we won't get any work!!!
Hmmm, I wonder.


 

Anne Bohy  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:28
English to French
Agencies examine your rates after you've taken the test Jan 22, 2010

I've the impression that agencies save some time by examining the resume and rates only of those who have passed the test.
To save my own time, I now make sure that we agree on my rates BEFORE I take the test.
It has saved me time already.


 

Yael Ramon  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 06:28
German to Hebrew
+ ...
Test is reasonable to some extent Jan 22, 2010

If the asker is a private person, there is no reason for test - he cannot evaluate it anyway. Agencies do ask for tests in order to locate you on their standards scale, and judge your rates accordingly, or in case of a specific job, to see how you coop with the specific subject.

However, if the test is longer than 200-250 words, and includes a beginning and an end (i.e. a complete document), there is room for suspicion that this is only someone who is trying to get a free translation.

Since I was qualified for quite a few jobs on a test basis, I do not underestimate it - don't forget that in our business we cannot just give reference - most of the contacts are liable to non-disclosure, and this is not a product that you can touch or see in advance.
The market is full of us, and there is no other way to make a choice - just like in any other job interview.

Good luck


 

Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:28
English to Japanese
+ ...
You don't offer your service for free during your trial period Jan 22, 2010

Yael Ramon wrote:

The market is full of us, and there is no other way to make a choice - just like in any other job interview.

Good luck


If you go to a job interview and they hire you, they usually place you under a trial period of a few weeks with a cut in pay. And if you meet their standards, you are officially employed. Even though the pay is low, at least they pay you, or even if they turn you down, they WILL notify you. Not in the case of agencies giving out useless and meaningless free trial translations.

[Edited at 2010-01-22 09:04 GMT]


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:28
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
200 words, more than enough in English-Spanish Jan 22, 2010

Our last test was for a trainee who will join us shortly. We gave her an issue of The Spectator magazine and let her choose an article for her own test. We asked her to translate just two long-ish paragraphs, which was more than enough to know her areas of improvement.

In the case of a professional translator, 200 carefully chosen words are more than enough to know whether you can use that person.


 

Anne Carnot  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 05:28
Member (2009)
English to French
short tests Jan 22, 2010

I did a few short tests in the past, eventhough most of my clients hired me without asking for any kind of test. I usually agree to do them if they're not too long, or don't have too short a deadline (then I'm suspicious!).
I know of one instance of an agency who asked me for "help" in translating a so-called very short document (but quite technical...); they said they urgently needed it (in the next hour) and as it was short did I mind doing it free of charge??? I had already done a test for this agency (successfully apparently) but they still hadn't given me any work, so I thought it was a bit too muchicon_eek.gif
So I think accepting or declining a test is a question of feeling... just make sure you know the rate they offer beforehand, so that you don't waste your time!icon_smile.gif


 

Laurent KRAULAND (X)  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:28
French to German
+ ...
In a nutshell... Jan 22, 2010

Most test translations belong to the online gambling category.

 

Deborah Workman  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
Agree that short tests can be reasonable -- be selective in agreeing to do them Jan 22, 2010

Yasutomo Kanazawa wrote:

I understand you concern, and 20+ experience in this industry, test translations led me to nowhere. 99.9% out of the time, you don't hear from them. Recently, there was one agency who asked me to do a test translation, and I declined due to the reasons that I don't get feedback at all, but they insisted that if I don't take it, I wouldn't be considered as a candidate for an on-going project which they are handling right now.

So, I decided to take the test, which the deadline was set, and delivered it within their proposed deadline. However, after two weeks, three weeks, two months, nothing from them. So I wrote to the PM who asked me to do the test about the results, and she told me that she would check with the validator. And it was already past 4 months since I first took the test, and it took another week to validate my ability. They told me that I have passed the test, but I haven't heard from them since then.



I had this exact same experience and wouldn't be surprised if it was with the exact same agency. I have been very cautious about doing test translations since.

I don't dismiss requests for test translations out of hand, but am selective about doing them. They either have to be so brief that they are "noise" (the requests found on most ProZ job postings are just a few lines) or they have to be for a project or client I really want to win (in which case I limit the test to 300 words).

I find that most serious clients who do request tests do not ask for more than about 150-200 words. If I'm given the option to select the text for the translation, I make sure it is from different parts of the document to be translated so that it is representative of my skills and I don't give away a ready-to-use module.

Thankfully, I'm not asked to do test translations very much. Most clients seem to be satisfied to consider my credentials, pricing and availability and rely on my own assessment of whether their document is one I can translate competently and professionally. (I always look at a document before I agree to translate it and before I commit to a firm price and deadline.)

Lindve, if you are being asked to test translations a lot, you might consider whether there is a pattern (certain part of the world, certain price category, agency Blue Board rating, certain subject matter) or holes in your CV that could account for this. In my experience, requests for test translations are rare. When you do receive them, you can protect yourself from being exploited by setting some limits on the length of the tests you will do and the types of clients you will do them for.

By the way, the bad experience I had like Yasutomo's was when I was trying to get established. I'm afraid that taking a few hard knocks is part and parcel of getting started. But forums like these can help minimize the pain!


 

PRAKAASH  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 08:58
Member (2007)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Test translation- my experience Jan 22, 2010

Hi,

Recently, I got a call from an agency located in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. A lady was on the line asking me for a Nepali test translation of 350 words. I asked the purpose behind test translation, just to know, if it was for their evaluation or they wanted it for client-specific reason and potential business from it.
The lady replied that either you say 'yes' or 'no', else there are other translators in queue. The deadline was somewhere around say 3 hours.
I was in sleepy mood. I told her to email it.
When I woke up. I thought again over the call and called back that lady asking about the test. And why didn't she respond properly to my queries? She was speechless. I questioned her professionalism.
However, she emailed me the document. I found it a flier/brochure of some International airline. She was trying to make me fool, I thought. I sent an sms blaming her professionalism and quoted her a good price (at least good in Indian market), if she wanted the translation yet, no free translations.

I sent an email also, which read as below:

"Hello Ms. .... G,
I am sorry to say that I can't do anything free for you considering your unprofessional attitude over the phone call and moreover, you haven't given all contact details of yours as part of your signature. How can I trust you?
Regarding charges that are applicable in your specific case, I repeat, is INR .... per word upfront before any job for first 5 jobs. I have already sent you an sms regarding same. I can't provide anything for free and that too in time-specific boundation!
My quality has never raised any eyebrow of a genuine outsourcer yet in my whole career of 7-8 years.
Try to improve your communication skills else it will surely raise eyebrows of your good freelancers and clients for sure."

I don't know how much was I wrong in dealing straight-forwardly, but I did it without giving any second thought, considering her unprofessionalism over the phone call.

Anyone, who has opinion over such straight-forward answer to that lady? You are always welcome!icon_smile.gif

Regards,
PRAKAASH


 

Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:28
Member (2008)
English to French
Common sense is the best defense Jan 23, 2010

I have never said no to a small (250 words or less) test from an established (20+ BB entries) agency. The caveat however is that I never, ever return a test within 24-48 hours. I thank the PM/hiring manager, explain that my schedule is tight for the next few days and that since I want to put my best foot forward and do not want to "tack on" the translation at the end of a long day and I will be returning it the next week.

If it is a "real" test, ie. the agency is not turning around and charging a client for it, the delay is not a problem... once it took me 2 months before returning a test (I was busy and kept pushing it off until I finally got it done)... I still got picked up by the agency and received projects from them afterwards.

If it is not a real test... once I received a list of 200 words in Excel, each in a cell, as a "test"... (as if anything could be ascertained by a random list of words... really!) the agency will need the translation back within a certain time frame and will not accept delay (that same one told me point blank the client needed it back ASAP so I had to return it by the deadline or they wouldn't send another test...). In that case I usually send a rebuff stating that I do not offer paid work for free and that since the agency was dishonest up front - disguising a job as a test in order to obtain it free of charge - I would only offer my services following upfront payment and should they still require a test, they had only to mention which field they wanted and I would send them a sample of my translation work (redacted of course)... Of course I have never gotten any work from those clients but I still answer every time as I find the process cathartic.icon_smile.gif


 

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:28
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
A "paid test" is not neccessarily a good thing Jan 23, 2010

One of the Chinese translators once asked me to do a "paid test" at a lower rate, and told me that the successful candicates could work with him on an on-going basis.. His feedback to my sample is that it was a good piece and he immediately paid me.

4 years have passed since then, he never gave me any other assignment.

The so called paid test in this case must have been part of a real job. He just wanted to make you happy by telling you that it is a paid test, so that you could provide a translation of outstanding quality with a very low charge.

I regreted so much for doing this for him. He got my high quality translation, and saved the cost for hiring a reviewer, and met his tight deadline. But I should have spent the time consumed for something much better.

Some people just like these kinds of tricks.

[Edited at 2010-01-23 11:00 GMT]


 

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:28
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Some "certified" agencies just use your samples to fulfil their re-certification requirements Jan 23, 2010

I have done free tests for a couple of agencies and they informed me my test samples have passed. Then asked me to fill out the contract, the NDA and questionaires, etc. After I faxed back these papers, they never contacted me again.

One of the agencies that didn't give me any job asked me to fill out a translator satisfaction survey at the end of their fiscal year.

This made me think that these agencies might just need to get enough people who have passed their test samples and document the results. If they don't have enough test samples on file, they might fail the re-certification in the new cycle.

[Edited at 2010-01-23 11:01 GMT]


 

Katarina Lindve  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 05:28
English to Swedish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks - I hav learned a lot of scary things Jan 23, 2010

I have read all entries and I am now sure that this is a real problem for us translators. I have also recieved assurance that 200-300 words is reasonable, combined with a generous deadline.

I myself will contact agencies I have done test translations for, butnever replied after they got ther so called tests.

This shoudl also be something that proz could help us with - as we can use Blueboard to warn for non-paying companies, we should be able to ask for assistance against this kind of behaviour.


 
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