Translation test of +500 words. Should I have accepted it?
Thread poster: Andrea Diaz

Andrea Diaz
Local time: 10:20
English to Spanish
+ ...
May 13, 2014

Hello everyone. This is my first time asking for help in proz, so please bear with me.

I was recently contacted by a translation agency that required two 500+ words translation tests, Spanish to English and English to Spanish. I put the plus sign because part of the document was a a jpg file, so maybe it was a 800 words translation test.

I replied as politely as I could that I only do 250-300 words translation tests. More than that I charge my minimum rate, but I would be more than happy to do a 250-300 words version of the test. Furthermore, I only translate from English to Spanish since Spanish is my native language and I want to ensure the quality of my work. Then I attached a translation sample just in case.

A colleague put me in contact with the agency, so I know that they are trustworthy.

I haven't heard from them again, though I strongly suspect that they have contacted other former classmates of mine (thank you facebook). I'm still relatively new in the bussiness, so I can't afford to lose any potential clients. Should I have sucked up my pride as a newcomer? Thank you very much for your valuable input.

[Edited at 2014-05-14 14:20 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-05-14 14:28 GMT]


Sandra Peters-Schöbel
Local time: 17:20
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
I think you did absolutely right... May 14, 2014

Hi Andrea,
I think you did absolutely right and reacted very professional.

A sample translation of 300 words maximum is acceptable, according to my experience and understanding.
Normally agencies won't pay for a translation test, but will ask you beforehand if you are willing to do a free test.

Whenever you get a large text, something unusual or complicated or very urgent you might suspect that they are trying to get a translation for free. Thank goodness that's not the rule but it's always good to be a bit suspicious.

And regarding the language pairs I do the same. I always tell them that I am only translating into my mother tongue. Everything else would not be perfect and a native would recognize it at first glance...

Keep on trying, that's the only advice I can give. There are thousands of agencies and a look at the Bluebord on is the first thing you should do if someone new is contacting you...
Best regards


Andrea Diaz
Local time: 10:20
English to Spanish
+ ...
Thank you. May 14, 2014

Thank you for your advice. It's good to hear that I took the right choice, even if it means a lost client. It's been 8 days and I still haven't heard from them, so maybe I should lose hope. They did say that they would send the document back to the client and he/she would have the final word, so I doubt that I would have been paid properly.

The agency is Mexican and they are not listed on the blueboard, so I only had my colleague as reference. Regardless, I will take your advice into consideration. I want to start building my career on proz, and I will research the agency in the future. Thank you.


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:20
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
You did absolutely right May 14, 2014

I agree with the colleague. You did the right thing. 800 words is clearly too long a test. 250-300 words from a carefully selected text are more than enough to get a quite good idea of a translator's abilities.

From their expectation that you also translate into English and the lack of reply to your proposal, one could think that they are not that good a catch as a customer after all. Do not worry: there's a lot of fish in the sea!


Inge Luus  Identity Verified
South Africa
Local time: 17:20
Member (2008)
German to English
+ ...
The right thing - and hang in there May 14, 2014

You did the right thing - I have to agree with everyone else who posted here. I want to add, though, that sometimes it can take time to get a relationship going / actually get onto an agency's books. I once had to wait a year to get onto an agency's books. In the end it was worth it, in my case. Don't give up hope, but don't just wait for the one agency - keep on marketing yourself.


James Hodges  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:20
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Two 500+ words translation tests is pushing it severely. Jun 21, 2014

Admittedly I don't work in words but rather Asian characters, however, getting somebody to do 1,000 words of work for nothing is outrageous. I suppose my only question is what they were offering in return. Based on my own experience with Japanese to English, I have to admit that sometimes I have done translations that bordered on 400 words of output (into English). But in each and every case the upside for me was potentially thousands of pages of work. On the other hand, asking somebody relatively new to the business to cough up 1,000 words as a sample sounds like very bad form. Moreover, the lack of feedback from the agency also irks me. My advice (for what it is worth) is that you stick to your guns Andrea, you did the right thing.


Michelle Kusuda  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:20
English to Spanish
+ ...
Reputable agencies pay for "sample" translations. Jun 21, 2014

I have been a freelancer since 1993 and it boils down to this: good agencies are interested in finding good translators and keeping them, therefore they respect you and your valuable time so they pay for samples.

Other agencies start by sending you paid proofreading jobs and then promote you to translator!

Rather than spending the time on "free" samples, consider investing that time in making cold calls to companies you think might need your services. It will pay off better in the long run! icon_wink.gif

Welcome to the profession!


Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:20
English to Polish
+ ...
Depends Jun 21, 2014

Well, the probability of any intentional slight or exploitation is pretty low.

While it's true that 500 words, times two, requires anywhere between 1 and 3 hours of your unpaid time, perhaps the agency wants to be doubly sure. Longer tests are more reliable.

Regarding translation out of your mother language, a test might still be useful even if you don't normally translate in that direction. We're currently all under the influence of a couple of notions born in the Anglosphere, but they aren't laws set in stone, and some of them may be quite hurtful or at least there is the other side of the coin. With all the talk that: 'professional translators translate only into their native language,' (with no explanation given or known, how professional is that), concurrently with the huge emphasis of domestication and prettying things up, plenty of translators stop at a relatively low level in their non-native source language and somewhow get by. Obviously, they shouldn't translate into that language, being merely advenced learners or, worse, upper intermediate. However, a translator should be proficient and beyond. There is room for translators who aren't proficient enough to translate into their primary foreign language, but the situation is not ideal. If my translator can't sort out his conditionals and subjunctives, if he doesn't know what to do with articles, when using the language actively, what guarantee do I have that he will understand correctly the meaning conveyed by grammar and syntax where it matters, as opposed to just piecing the words together semi-randomly like a green student would?

Anyway, don't be surprised if professional linguists, even in the Anglosphere, don't share the mainstream sentiment. (Which certainly doesn't make them unprofessional.)

Back to samples, though. Perhaps see them as an investment, not a cost. A cost is always too high. On the other hand, it's worth investing an hour or even three of your time if there's work on the horizon. There may be or there may not, but you're better off wasting 1-3 hours than wasting an opportunity.

Besides, a test always works both ways. For five hundred words of your translation, you get five hundred words of their proofreading and reviewing. And that's really a piece of valuable information that can save you a lot of grief early on, more assuredly than a shorter sample.


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