Advice to beginning translators on: Translation Tests
Thread poster: Riccardo Schiaffino

Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
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English to Italian
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May 9, 2006

I've just posted a new article in a series I'm writing to provide advice to beginning translators.

This article is devoted to translation tests. Among the topics covered:

1. The test should be of an acceptable length.
2. Read carefully, and follow any instructions given together with the test.
3. Do your best.
4. Do not leave alternate translations.
5. Do not add translator's notes.

If you are interested in reading the entire article, please go to the following address:

http://aboutranslation.blogspot.com/2006/05/advice-to-beginning-translators-4_08.html


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
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German to English
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Interesting May 9, 2006

Interesting article, Riccardo. I was surprised to read this, though:

"Do not add translator's notes, unless specifically requested to do so in the instructions: I've seen many apparently acceptable tests fail because the translation notes made clear that the translator had not, in fact, understood the meaning of some sentence or term."

Often, the best possible translation can only be reached in conjunction with the customer (with access to either the original author or the ultimate user of the translation). A sentence may for example be ambiguous, or badly worded, and even the most competent of translators may not be able to discern the meaning with absolute certainty. Without the opportunity to consult the customer, a translator's note is surely the best procedure.

If the translator has not understood a sentence or term, isn't it better to write a translator's note than to keep quiet about it?

Marc


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Trevor Butcher
Local time: 00:16
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Depends on what they are measuring May 9, 2006

MarcPrior wrote:

If the translator has not understood a sentence or term, isn't it better to write a translator's note than to keep quiet about it?

Marc


If a test has been created well, then notes will not add anything to the test. If it says 'no notes' then they may be trying to filter out those who do not read instructions as well as those who cannot translate.


As for tests being free, they are only for free if you don't consider them as an investment in your business


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DariaK
English to Russian
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Thanks Riccardo May 9, 2006

Thank you! Riccardo.
Being a beginner I found this article very useful!

I'm just about to start my journey, and sometimes I feel down and out. Articles like that give me ideas how the things work in the world of translation and interpreting. Thank you!


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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
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Translators' notes May 9, 2006

MarcPrior wrote:

Often, the best possible translation can only be reached in conjunction with the customer ...

If the translator has not understood a sentence or term, isn't it better to write a translator's note than to keep quiet about it?

Marc


I agree... for a real work assignment, but for an evaluation test the situation is different: for a real work assignment, the customer wants to get the best possible translation, and should welcome questions from translators aimed at clariing obscure points. In a test, they want to see what the candidate is capable of doing on his or her own.


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
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Advice to beginning translators on: Translation Tests May 9, 2006

Riccardo Schiaffino wrote:

In a test, they want to see what the candidate is capable of doing on his or her own.


By "translator's notes", I'm talking about errors or ambiguities in the source text; points which require clarification in order to produce a suitable translation, but which the translator is not able to clarify alone. I'm not talking about multiple possible renderings where the translator is simply too timid (or ignorant) to make a decision.

Translator's notes are standard good practice in the real world of translation. Why shouldn't they be standard good practice, where necessary, in a test? If a test text contains an error or an ambiguity, it's bad practice in my view to ignore it or pretend that it doesn't exist.

I have taken tests as a candidate and have also set tests myself (when I worked in-house at a translation agency) which contained errors which the candidate was expected to spot and point out. Whether the candidate spotted them and how he or she dealt with them were an integral part of the test. Some customers may not want to receive translator's notes, and if they explicitly say so then clearly the instruction should be followed, but I don't think it's correct to say that all customers who set tests consider translator's notes undesirable.

Marc


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shfranke  Identity Verified
United States
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English to Arabic
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That cited blog seems adequate explanation May 9, 2006

Greetings.

Your cited blog (Part 4, and extracts below with comments) pretty well covers salient reasons not to do a "test translation."

----------------------------

Re... Another objection is that translation tests mean little, and that translation companies should rely instead on the work experience, education, or other indicators of a translator's worth, which is a valid objection, but would not help one gain work from an agency who has decided to use translation tests in their screening process: normally, if you don't do the test, you also don't work for them.

CMT: Other indicators of proven competence can include:

(1) referrals to satisfied previous customers and clients

and/or

(2) samples of previous products that those customers have approved for "promotional release" (such release usually involves slight editing to "sanitize" or delete proprietary data the approving customer prefers not to be publicized)

One also might wonder whether, and of so, how, the firm requiring a test translation is paying the person(s) the firm engages to assess and evaluate your submitted test translation.

----------------------------

Re... In my opinion, the best objection to doing free translation tests is that one has no time for that: if you already have enough work, doing a translation test for free is probably not the best investment of your time.

CMT: Well said.

-----------------------------

While lawyers may provide a free initial consulation, most do not provide a free legal opinion, which requires substantive research and analysis of the merits of a case (and incurs significant liabilities).

Last I heard, professional engineers do not provide free blueprints, engineering analyses or build sample buildings.

(Some related considerations may apply to the various ideas circulating in the worldwide language services industry about the correlation and relevance of "certification" by assorted entities, jurisdictions or authorities at various levels.)

Hope this helps.

Regards,

Stephen H. Franke


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
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SATI tests also penalise for translators' notes May 10, 2006

MarcPrior wrote:
Often, the best possible translation can only be reached in conjunction with the customer (with access to either the original author or the ultimate user of the translation).

If the translator has not understood a sentence or term, isn't it better to write a translator's note than to keep quiet about it?


True, but the SATI accreditation test also penalises translators for putting in translators' notes. A translation test is necessarily artificial because you can't contact the client. This will be taken into account by the examiner. I'm sure the examiner has seen hundreds of translations of that text and he knows which words are potentially ambiguous, and he knows which variant translations he would regard as "acceptable".

Think of a test in the same way as a Bible translation. You can't ask God what he meant, so you translate as best you can what you think He might have meant.


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
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Advice to beginning translators on: Translation Tests May 10, 2006

Samuel Murray wrote:

....but the SATI accreditation test also penalises translators for putting in translators' notes.


The IoL DipTrans, which is a highly regarded translation qualification, actually used to *require* translators to write translator's notes. Since 2004, notes have not been compulsory, but candidates may use them where necessary. See: www.iol.org.uk/qualifications/exams_diptrans.asp#notes

A translation test is necessarily artificial because you can't contact the client.


That makes the need for translator's notes more likely, not less.

Marc


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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not true May 10, 2006

MarcPrior wrote:

The IoL DipTrans, which is a highly regarded translation qualification, actually used to *require* translators to write translator's notes.
That's not quite true - the DipTrans used to require translators to write *annotations*, as an academic exercise. These involved a translator flagging problematic passages and justifying his/her solution to the problem. It is these that were abolished in 2004 (apparently because too many translators were gaining higher marks than they otherwise deserved by being good at writing annotations).

(Translator's notes are still allowed, though by no means required, and the IoL's guidance as to when they are allowed contradicts the examiners' reports in some cases.)
Angela


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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
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Entirely practical reason for not including translator's notes May 10, 2006

I know that a properly done translator's note is a useful tool of the trade for professional translators.

However, my advice not to include translator's notes was for entirely practical reasons.

Don't forget that my article is aimed at translators that are just starting in our profession: in translation tests I don't remember a single instance of someone adding a translation note that made us revise the test evaluation upwards, but I remeber quite a few instances of translators writing a half-decent translation, then shooting themselves in the foot with translation notes that made it clear that they had in fact misinterpreted a particular passage.



[Edited at 2006-05-10 18:31]


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
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Advice to beginning translators on: Translation Tests May 10, 2006

Angela Dickson wrote:

That's not quite true - the DipTrans used to require translators to write *annotations*, as an academic exercise.


Thanks for the clarification, Angela. You are right, annotations were required, and I am talking explicitly about translator's notes. However, translator's notes are still explicitly allowed.

My original point was not that translator's notes should be used at all costs in tests, but that it is not correct to say that they should never be used under any circumstances.

Marc


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:16
German to English
Test translations are invaluable May 11, 2006

An excellent article Riccardo, following your other equally excellent ones.

The argument you cite that "translation tests mean little, and that translation companies should rely instead on the work experience, education, or other indicators of a translator's worth"

is not, in my experience, a valid objection. Educational qualifications mean little where translation is concerned (I'm sorry to say), and work experience can be extremely misleading - there are plenty of people with 20 or more years' translating experience who are actually pretty crap at doing it.

Similarly, past translation work - even if genuine, which it often isn't - is often not a really useful pointer to a translator's experience, as in many cases it will have been revised and edited, so it's difficult to get a feel for what the translator can actually do on a standalone basis.

The analogy with lawyers etc. doesn't hold water for translators, IMHO - lawyers, architects etc. have to pass through a pretty rigorous postgraduate training that stretches over a number of years and culminates in professional exams with a high failure rate. At best, translation degrees represent no more than about 20% of what other professionals have to go through.

With very, very few exceptions, we always insist on standardized test translations from applicants, and always from candidates for in-house positions. Perhaps it's worth mentioning that the pass rate for our test translations is lower than 5%.

Robin


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