Should I take a translation exam ?
Thread poster: Anne-Laure Schneider

Anne-Laure Schneider  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:57
English to French
Oct 12, 2011

Hi,

I have started only recently as an EN to FR freelancer, even though I have looked around and gathered some info for about a year. Several agencies have accepted me, after I have passed translation tests, but the rates are quite low (I have accepted them because I wanted to get some experience, and to keep practising). I have no language or translation degree, as you can see on my profile I have studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (mostly science, but also literature, languages and history classes), I am finishing a PhD in Computer Science, and the only "proof" I have that I can indeed translate is that I have been a French lectrice at the University of Cambridge during one year. They hired me after having considered my application documents, and interviewing me. I had to tutor students in literary translation to and from English, French grammar and literature. They trusted me because they could actually see I was doing a good job.

It is much harder to make clients trust you when they can' t even meet you. I live in a not-so-big city, with basically no translation agency nor international organizations that could need a translator. I am considering taking a translation exam, or a language exam. I have looked at the Cambridge Proficiency Exam (but that would not say a thing about my abilities as a translator), the DipTrans, maybe the ATA certification... Do you think that would be useful ? And then which exam would be the best suited in this case ?

I would welcome any piece of advice !


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Simon March  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:57
Member (2010)
German to English
Should I take a translation exam ? Well that depends.. Oct 12, 2011

Hi Anne-Laure,

I saw your post and thought I would share my experience and thoughts.
Let me state right at the start that I am no expert and only just starting out in the translation field myself but perhaps my experience may be of some help to you...

Just over 2 years ago I was employed in a software company providing customer and technical support, which I had been doing for various companies for nearly 20 years. Then suddenly in May 2009 I was made redundant and lost my job. After some consideration I then did an MA in Translation at Surrey University which I completed successfully last year. I also became an associate member of the Insitute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI).

My main reason for doing the MA and becoming an ITI member were to help establish myself as a translator working from German into English (I was fluent in German and lived in Germany for over 4 years).

The agencies and clients I have worked for generally ask about length of translation experience and for a test translation.

So it all seems to depends on what you personally want to get out of it, what your translation experience is already, what customers and potential customers want and which field you want to translate in. Having a translation qualification does not 'guarantee' a higher rate but does give you a good grounding in translation and its related disciplines (i.e. CAT tools, translation quality etc).

Well as I said I can only speak from my experience and that's my two pence/cents worth anyway.. I hope this helps!

Simon March
Freelance German to English translator


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:57
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
One question springs to mind Oct 12, 2011

Hello Anne-Laure,

The question that I'd like to ask you is: do YOU need more proof that you can translate?

You've been to one of the best schools in France, you have a PhD - so you have an in-depth knowledge of various subject areas; you've been accepted by one of the best schools in England to work for them; you've been accepted by several agencies to translate for them - and you are still worried about not being accepted?

If I were a client, I would certainly give you a try. But I'd be a little perplexed by your specialisations. You don't want to concentrate mainly on your areas of study? Of course, it's your choice, but it would seem that the sciences and IT areas would be good specialisations and they would also probably pay more. As far as the agencies are concerned, if the agencies that have accepted you don't pay enough, look for others that do! And look for direct clients too.

As for a translation exam, I would say that following a course of study in translation would probably be useful to supplement your other studies. It helps you to have confidence in the fact that you are doing it right, but also it gives you arguments to justify your choices if they are challenged by clients. On the other hand, you might benefit even more from a course on how to market yourself. Maybe you have all the skills you need and are simply lacking a little self-confidence.

Good luck,

Sheila


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Anne-Laure Schneider  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:57
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
About my specializations Oct 12, 2011

Well, first I think I should answer about my specializations. I put forward science and more particularly computer science because it is obvious from my resume that I know the fields. However one of my aims in trying to become a freelance translator is to change my career completely. What I would really, really want to do is literary translation (which is why I asked for the job in Cambridge, it allowed me to spend a year abroad and to afford to do an unpaid internship in a computer science lab, but it was mostly a job I loved ! But I know it is also one of the hardest fields to get in, so I don't mind getting some experience first in more varied subjects. But to say the truth, I don't like translating texts about computers or hotels at all ! Particularly about computers, since it is quite hard to push for French words instead of pseudo-English ones (courriel instead of email for example, and I love "téléverser" instead of "uploader").

I am not particularly worried for now, I can get some jobs, I can pass translation tests, so, so far, everything is fine, but I would just like to look one step ahead and see what I could improve in my profile to go further. Until now I have only applied to direct clients on ProZ and another famous translators' forum (it's only been two weeks) and noone ever answered (which is OK, I know I should wait much, much longer), so I don't really know what would make a real difference to them : having credentials (some job offers require some), using Trados (I use Wordfast Classic, and I always tell them it is compatible, but is it enough ?), adjusting my rates (are they too low, too high ?)

Once again, I am not worried, and certainly not discouraged, just a bit at a loss at what my next step should be.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:57
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I'm receiving a confused message Oct 12, 2011

Hello again,

Fine, you've justified your reason for not choosing technical subjects - you want to concentrate on literary translations. However, looking at it from a client's viewpoint, you are giving very confused messages: your line on the tab says computer specialist, your tag line says detail-oriented, and literature is only your 7th specialisation. That doesn't sound like someone to choose for literature.

However, your question was about exams. I'm now wondering whether it wouldn't be a good idea to study writing and/or to publish some creative writing on the web, or offer to translate (for free, if necessary), English creative texts. I don't know if there are translation courses which concentrate 100% on literature, but I do know that it is a rather different job from scientific or even marketing translations. I can't help thinking that clients will be more impressed reading your own texts/translations than seeing that you hold a certificate in translating business texts.

Sheila


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