Test Translations - How Long is Fair?
Thread poster: Charlotte Farrell

Charlotte Farrell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:45
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
Apr 23, 2013

I've recently established myself as a freelance translator and so am spending quite a lot of time searching for new clients and doing test translations. For the most part this has been fine and each company has asked me to do an approx. 300 word unpaid translation, which I find perfectly reasonable. One company, however, has asked me to do a test translation for each individual subject area in I would want to accept translation assignments. Each is only around 200 words in length, but since there are a lot of sub-categories, this would add up to me doing in excess of 2,000 words. They ask to send all test translations at once and not to do part deliveries so I couldn't even do a couple and wait to see how I do before spending my time on the rest. Should I be accepted, their rates are at the minimum of what I accept and I even had to negotiate to get those.

I was wondering what you think about this? Do you think that this is reasonable and should I spend my time on these test translations in the hope that the amount of work I get from them in the end more than makes up for the time spent on this test translations, or should I say no thank you?

[Edited at 2013-04-23 13:42 GMT]


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:45
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
No, that is excessive Apr 23, 2013

Charlotte Farrell wrote:
One company, however, has asked me to do a test translation for each individual subject area in I would want to accept translation assignments.


I suppose it could seem like a reasonable request to them, but it amounts to a lot of work done for free. If I were you, I'd choose two or three fields that you know best, and then do those tests. The agency can evaluate you based on that. If a job comes in for one of the other subject fields, then they're welcome to let you translate it then, but not beforehand.


 

Charlotte Farrell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:45
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, Samuel Apr 23, 2013

That's good advice. I think I'll say I'll just do two or three and see what they say. Fortunately I've been lucky with the clients I have and am not desperate for work, otherwise I'd be more inclined to bite the bullet and do them all.

 

Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
In my experience Apr 23, 2013

the amount of work it takes to join an agency is in inverse proportion with the amount of work they'll end up giving you. Those agencies with reams of paperwork to send by post and tax forms and endless tests and NDAs and blablabla are always the ones which never send you work or are unwilling to budge on rates.

I'm all for free tests to show a sample of your work (this issue has been discussed many times on the forum so if you look it up you'll find plenty of other opinions on the subject) but 2,000 words is excessive and I'd be highly suspicious of any agency which thought that this was a reasonable expectation when embarking upon a business relationship with you.

It is possibly a litmus test of their overall ability to reason logically.

I would do exactly as Samuel suggested.


 

Sarah McDowell  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 06:45
Russian to English
+ ...
Is it for a current project? Apr 23, 2013

Charlotte Farrell wrote:
They ask to send all test translations at once

[Edited at 2013-04-23 13:42 GMT]


I am suspicious by the fact that they ask you to send the test to them immediately. It could be part of a job disguised as a test.

Also, I would ask to make sure that it is for a current project. Ask if you get a good result on the test if this will mean work will be assigned to you in that subject.

I highly doubt that they will have work immediately ready for you in a wide variety of subject fields.


 

Charlotte Farrell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:45
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Apr 23, 2013

Marie-Helene: Thanks for the advice. If I do decide to do test translations I'll only do one or two subjects.

Sarah: I think I formulated that sentence badly. They mean that they want all the test translations to be sent in one batch and not in part deliveries, rather than immediately.

They said that they are able to offer an attractive amount of jobs but require the test translations first. Having said that, they did say that before I refused their rates and we compromised on my lowest rates. They then said I'll probably get less work as they want to offer the best possible rates to the clients (ie by using cheaper translators). I'm considering walking away entirely all things considered.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:45
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Lop-sided collaboration? Apr 23, 2013

Charlotte Farrell wrote:
since there are a lot of sub-categories, this would add up to me doing in excess of 2,000 words.

Should I be accepted, their rates are at the minimum of what I accept and I even had to negotiate to get those.

Do you feel that they're likely to actually pay those rates, seeing that they are obviously above what they want to pay, or do you get the feeling that maybe it'll always be a case of "this one has a tight budget; maybe next time"? And if you do get work at those rates, how soon are they going to pay - do you know? Will you have to use their payment system that others complain about, or are you reasonably sure that everything will go smoothly and you'll get your money fast? Have you already spent quite some (unpaid) time on filling in forms and signing agreements, even before you got to discuss rates?

These questions are just some of the ones you should be asking yourself. Only you know what vibes you're getting, but I must say that, generally speaking, I agree with Marie-Hélène about high-maintenance agencies.

Do you think that this is reasonable and should I spend my time on these test translations in the hope that the amount of work I get from them in the end more than makes up for the time spent on this test translations

I think I'd personally want to see the colour of their money before I committed to that amount of work.


 

Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:45
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
2000 words as tests are too long Apr 23, 2013

You have been given very good advice; I agree with it, especially as you were asked to give the translations at one go. The agency wanted some free translations, more likely.Charlotte, find other agencies, do not waste your time with this agency. Good luck and good thing you put it here

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 13:45
English to Polish
+ ...
More on free samples Apr 23, 2013

Charlotte Farrell wrote:

I've recently established myself as a freelance translator


Congratulations, I've been trying to do that for the last couple of years.

and so am spending quite a lot of time searching for new clients and doing test translations.


That's your standard fare. A hundred CV per day is the quota on the US market, if you believe the war stories.

For the most part this has been fine and each company has asked me to do an approx. 300 word unpaid translation, which I find perfectly reasonable.


Yeah, that's normal.

One company, however, has asked me to do a test translation for each individual subject area in I would want to accept translation assignments.


That actually does sound reasonable and it may be that they actually have jobs in those areas and are considering you seriously, as long as you qualify. Or at least they're careful and won't give you hardcore accounting texts for doing a nice sample about gardening 2 years ago (or vice versa). Just make sure they aren't obvious scammers.

Each is only around 200 words in length, but since there are a lot of sub-categories, this would add up to me doing in excess of 2,000 words.


That's cool. If you get a steady client, then 2000 words for no pay is a reasonable investment and you won't even remember it. I'd actually be happy if an agency contacted me with a competent sample per each significant area of work, and I'd respect an agency claiming a sample from everybody alike, no matter first impressions based on the CV. People like that are likely to have proofreaders, and proofreaders watch your back.

They ask to send all test translations at once and not to do part deliveries so I couldn't even do a couple and wait to see how I do before spending my time on the rest.


That might be to limit the organisational chaos. I hate paperwork and understand everybody else who does. When I've been playing with files and scans for several hours, I just can't translate and need a glass of scotch or an evening out or whatever. Having stuff in one place and en block is a sensible practice.

Should I be accepted, their rates are at the minimum of what I accept and I even had to negotiate to get those.


That's not good but consider how much work they deliver, what their standards are, do they provide proofreaders, do they take responsibility for the text rather than forwarding every single dumb DIY complaint to your e-mail, can you learn from them, do they pay on time etc. etc. The market is a tough bully and proofreaders cost money, therefore an agency that actually acts like a good agency should is at a disadvantage and has to cut some corners somewhere anyway. Besides, nobody says you have to accept everything they have to share. Also, if you keep getting the same kind of texts from the same end clients, your speed will grow and you'll be like 2-3 times faster than in the beginning, which means earning more.

Do you think that this is reasonable and should I spend my time on these test translations in the hope that the amount of work I get from them in the end more than makes up for the time spent on this test translations, or should I say no thank you?

[Edited at 2013-04-23 13:42 GMT]


When in doubt, just do it, only don't take stinky jobs that smell of a liability trap. Every single text is experience, every single business interaction with an agency is business experience. You'll learn.

Also, I remember doing a really hardcore free or discounted sample that was larger than standard, and getting quite a lot of contract worth as a result of it. I'm talking about half my income for one of the years. It's easy to turn down a free sample, but you never know what you're missing if you do. It's better to be down a couple of hours of work unpaid for than a couple hundred hours of work not contracted to you.

Besides, doing samples is a skill in itself, and experience helps.

Also, if some folks don't like your style, your grammatical balance (prescriptive vs keep-it-real) or your terminological choices, then it's better if they take your sample and go away than if you've got them breathing on your neck over a text that's liable to subjective interpretation. Samples are bidirectional filters.

SarahMcDowell wrote:

I am suspicious by the fact that they ask you to send the test to them immediately. It could be part of a job disguised as a test.


Ma'am, I'm afraid you haven't been to the dark alleys I've treaded. Translators outsource too, and even a translator who has an entire day to work on a sample can deliver a vaguely passable job, unlike the same translator facing a normal flow of work (forget 20 pages due by dawn). Therefore some agencies time their trials.

I highly doubt that they will have work immediately ready for you in a wide variety of subject fields.


If your market is anything like my market, it could be very little work but strewn across all those subject fields.

***

Now, as for samples cut out from actual jobs. I agree they shouldn't really be unpaid. On the other hand, sometimes an actual, real text is better than whatever was designed specifically for the purpose of highlighting whatever the author of the sample subjectively deemed important, along with a bunch of ego spots for amateur sample drafters. For example, when I see the first page of a contract or a court ruling, I know there's gonna be trouble because somebody's gonna be smart (and often wrong) about arbitrary names assigned to various judicial tiers or dramatis personae of the trial, or the whereases and witnesseths. On the other hand, if they just take a random page from a bona fide court opinion or pleading or some of the meat of a contract, then we're gonna be reasonable persons about the whole thing.

Oh, and the first translation agency that ever gave me a job used a random text from a real case that I might even have worked on as a lawyer before. At that time, I didn't even know that some people would cut texts up for illicit crowd-sourcing with a fake recruitment smoke-screen. A bunch of good folks they've been for four years now.

Heh, perhaps one more thing. Longer samples are actually better than short samples. It's harder for an unreasonable reviewer to fail you when he has more material to discredit before he can give you the failing grade. He'd need to mark everything red, and that's not something he can keep doing over and over on 350-word samples, while 150 is about right for that type of thing. With 150 words total, pick one or two terms and get fixated on them, and the job is pretty much done. I'm not saying this is always the case; for example, I've designed short samples, such as three one-paragraph clauses followed by a long list of isolated sentences. But I knew what I was doing there, which isn't really the market standard.


 

Charlotte Farrell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:45
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Sheila and Josephine Apr 23, 2013

I think I will just tell the company that I'm not willing to do all the test translations they're asking me for. Maybe I'll do one or two but that's not all.

I don't actually think that they're trying to get free translations and do believe that these will be ones they ask all of their translators to do. They're all small and general and are listed on a (non-public) page of their website. They seem to be a large company and pretty popular with translators so I was fairly surprised.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 13:45
English to Polish
+ ...
Well... Apr 23, 2013

Charlotte Farrell wrote:

I think I will just tell the company that I'm not willing to do all the test translations they're asking me for. Maybe I'll do one or two but that's not all.


I'm not going to press the subject but if there's an urgent project (and those tend to enable higher fees), then the existence or not of a highly graded sample of yours in the relevant field in their archive can make a lot of difference, especially if there's literally no time to have you do a test sample.

I don't actually think that they're trying to get free translations and do believe that these will be ones they ask all of their translators to do. They're all small and general and are listed on a (non-public) page of their website. They seem to be a large company and pretty popular with translators so I was fairly surprised.


If they're small, actually doing them takes less time than wondering whether you should do them! One of the very busy people who have made a name and presumably some cash online, when asked how he managed to have all those things done, answered that he spent little time in "deliberation mode". He just did things.icon_wink.gif


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 17:15
English to Hindi
+ ...
Very true Apr 24, 2013

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:

the amount of work it takes to join an agency is in inverse proportion with the amount of work they'll end up giving you.


I have even had an agency asking me to send the signed contract by snail mail at considerable cost to me, in addition to making me jump all the other hoops. Several years have passed since then and I am still waiting to see the face a penny earned through any work send by them.

All this red tape only goes to show that the agency is immature or is too bureaucratic and has no feel for actual translation work. They also are likely to be more insensitive when it comes to resolving actual translation issues for they wouldn't have any clue of them.

I sometime think that we should charge these agencies by the hour for the time we spent to complete all their formalities, this will help them to keep the formalities to the barest minimum.

[2013-04-24 03:06 GMT पर संपादन हुआ]


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 13:45
English to Polish
+ ...
Walks, gophers May 1, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

I sometime think that we should charge these agencies by the hour for the time we spent to complete all their formalities, this will help them to keep the formalities to the barest minimum.


They'd probably refuse and they just might have a job or five unlike the rest of them. A single public procurement procedure to translate would pay for all the walks to the post office along with mailing fees.

Also, it's just dawned upon me that as freelancers we're prone to staying indoors too much, and walks are actually healthy. Snail mail can probably be worked into a light exercise schedule. Queues and mailing fees are a different problem, of course.

I've thought about hiring a kid as a gopher, too.


 


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