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How long a free "test" translation are you asked to do?
Thread poster: Neil Coffey

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:23
French to English
+ ...
Jun 26, 2009

I know this is something that comes up from time to time, but I'd be interested in current opinion.

I was contacted by a publisher about a reasonably lengthy translation job (tens of thousands of words), but they're now asking for a test translation of about 500 words. I understand occasionally it's useful to see a couple of sentences translated and some translators would accept to do this, but 500 words for free just sounds a bit abusive.

So I'd be interested to know other people's opinions since translation is a bit of a buyer's market these days-- would you really undertake 500 words for free on a prospective job?


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Walter Landesman  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 05:23
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
100 words Jun 26, 2009

Free sample translations, if you are willing to do it, should no longer than 100 words.

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conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:23
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
It's really up to you Jun 26, 2009

I can see why translation agencies want a test... if I was a translation agency I might want a test too.

But let's face it, unpaid test translations are really a pain in the butt for translators. I really hate doing them, because they require me to spend time on something that I have no idea whether it will result in a job. Sometimes I get asked 3 and 4 times a week to do these. I prioritize paid work over these translation tests, which means that sometimes it takes a very long time for me to submit one of these tests, which in turn means that I am a lot less likely to work for agencies who ask for these tests.

It's really up to you whether to refuse or not. I have seen some agencies who request 1,500 word test translations, in each separate subject matter. If you don't complete the test for the specific subject matter, they will not ask you to do jobs in that area. I never ended up working for this agency because I thought doing 3 or 4 tests of 1,500 words each was really too much.

Anyway, it is really up to you. But my personal opinion is, the shorter the better. Negotiate if you can. A test of 200 English words would be OK in my opinion. But most of the time agencies have their 'set' tests they want you to do, which may be 500 words.

HTH.



[Edited at 2009-06-26 17:16 GMT]


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:23
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
It's not an agency Jun 26, 2009

Sorry -- I should just clarify, that this isn't an agency, but a direct client.

I can sort of understand the logic with agencies-- you do one short test in return for potentially a steady stream of work.

But when it's a direct client only proposing a single job, I would really have expected a couple of previously-published sample translations or at worst a small test of 100 words to suffice.


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Per Magnus  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:23
English to Norwegian
Nope, never Jun 26, 2009

Personally I never do test translations. If the customer will not take a chance on me, I can provide them with references; if they want me to translate 500 words for free, then f*** them – I have other customers.

I sometimes outsource work, and I have never asked another translator to give a free test translation. First time, I give them a small job and I pay for it; if it is not good enough they don’t get another chance, I move on to the next translator.

But free tests – never. Some agencies send out 10 tests of 500 words, all different parts of one document. Then they have gotten a 5000 words translation for free – don’t fall for it.


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Walter Landesman  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 05:23
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Beware Jun 26, 2009

Very often the agency sends a "free sample test" of about 500 words to you, another piece to another colleague and so on, all of them different pieces of the same source text.
In doing so, they get a translation job done by free. Beware of these crooks.

I myself do not do free translations any more. Clients may see references or samples of previous jobs in my profile page.

An agency contacted me a couple of months ago and asked me for a sample translation of 500 words which was going to be paid IF they consider it quality. I referred them to my profile page for samples. They insisted that it wasn`t enough because they had "special needs". I replied that I also had "special needs" and requirements and could not rely on "quality" stated for an unkown person to be paid. I added that many agencies do this as a way to get translations by free. I didn`t say they were doing it, but they didn`t write to me any more.

It`s better to be on the safe side, I assume.


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:23
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Do a big test Jun 26, 2009

Depends how much you want the job.

If it is an interesting project that you will enjoy doing, will make you a better translator, and earn a reasonable income, then in your shoes I would volunteer a 500 word test translation, in fact I would volunteer 1,000 words in order to give the customer a much broader and compelling basis for choosing me.

Most of the other people in this forum are recommending short tests, even paid tests. I think that is often a good principle, but not in this case. It is short-sighted, and looking at the issue purely from the translator's point of view. Bad marketing.

You need to think of it from the customer's point of view -- what will make the customer choose you in preference to all the others. A longer unpaid test translation will win over a short paid test. You should regard the time spent on the test translation as an investment in marketing yourself. Go for it !


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Epameinondas Soufleros  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 11:23
Member (2008)
English to Greek
+ ...
Only two or three segments… Jun 26, 2009

…for more they can always have a look at the sample translations on my profile. That's the reason I put them there, and that's why we should all include sample translations in our portfolio on our ProZ profile.

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Uta Kappler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:23
Member (2008)
English to German
+ ...
We pay if we like your translation... Jun 26, 2009

If this client needs 500 words of translation to evaluate whether their "special needs" are covered with the translation received, then I think they should pay for it, maybe not full word price, but at least something to honor your time. "We pay if we like your translation" is really not a route that I would accept, not for a test piece and not for a real job.

I cannot tie a maximum word count to the size of a test piece I would do. It would certainly depend on the subject matter. You can easily spend an hour coming up with just the right catchy translation for a single Marketing slogan. Maybe my cutoff would be 200 words max for a technical translation. If I had the impression that it would take me more than an hour to do the test piece, I would probably step back.


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conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:23
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
An hour Jun 26, 2009

Uta Kappler wrote:
If I had the impression that it would take me more than an hour to do the test piece, I would probably step back.


1 hour is probably a good guideline. But as someone said, if you really want that job you may have to do a longer test.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 09:23
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Consider the costs and benefits Jun 26, 2009

Neil Coffey wrote:
...translation is a bit of a buyer's market these days....


Really? I hadn't noticed.

Peter Linton wrote:

Depends how much you want the job.

If it is an interesting project that you will enjoy doing, will make you a better translator, and earn a reasonable income, then in your shoes I would volunteer a 500 word test translation, in fact I would volunteer 1,000 words in order to give the customer a much broader and compelling basis for choosing me.

Most of the other people in this forum are recommending short tests, even paid tests. I think that is often a good principle, but not in this case. It is short-sighted, and looking at the issue purely from the translator's point of view. Bad marketing.

You need to think of it from the customer's point of view -- what will make the customer choose you in preference to all the others. A longer unpaid test translation will win over a short paid test. You should regard the time spent on the test translation as an investment in marketing yourself. Go for it !


I generally tell customers to take a long walk off a short pier - especially agencies who contact me unasked and then want to "qualify" me with a silly unpaid test translation - but Peter makes a good point here. You have to consider the situation carefully and what your benefit would be. In five years I think my partner and I have made exactly two exceptions to requests for "free samples", both of them on the extreme end. She once did an entire chapter unpaid for a medical publisher - didn't work out unfortunately. More recently, after carefully vetting the consultant who contacted me to be sure the inquiry from a renowned direct client was legitimate, I reluctantly did about € 350 worth of translation work gratis, with the result that I have so much paid work now waiting for me from that source that I'll have to turn down quite a lot of it. (Nobody gets more than 15% of my business no matter what they are willing to pay.) But it was a company with products that I simply love, so I thought it was worth going through the process. Most agencies with their qualification processes and requests for freebies are simply time wasters; my time is better spent on paid work.

So yes, I have my rules against unpaid work, and I am generally very vigorous in making my position on that subject known to those who ask. But our world isn't binary, and you need to use your brain and see where the exceptions are.

**********

Edited for the usual typos....

[Edited at 2009-06-26 19:15 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:23
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
250-300 words, more than enough Jun 26, 2009

The ATA certification tests are 350 words long. DipTrans' main test is 600 words long. So an agency clearly does not need to send you a longer test to evaluate your abilities. To me, 300 words is far more than enough!

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Uwe Schwenk
Local time: 03:23
English to German
Consider the costs and benefits Jun 26, 2009

Peter and Kevin stated it perfectly. I could not agree more.

Uwe


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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:23
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
100 - 300 words Jun 26, 2009

Definitely not more than 300 - I believe that it should be absolutely enough to judge translator's skills. Sometimes I just receive a fragment and I am asked to translate as much as I think appropriate but for example not less than 100 words. IMHO it is the most reasonable approach - leaving up to translator how much he/she thinks is necessary to prove one's skills.

Cheers
S

PS: I understand that in case of very large orders - let's say book translation it may be necessary to ask translators to provide longer test translations but such tests should definitely be paid for.


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Andris Dinaburgskis  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 11:23
English to Latvian
+ ...
does not matter Jun 26, 2009

Per Magnus wrote:

I sometimes outsource work, and I have never asked another translator to give a free test translation. First time, I give them a small job and I pay for it; if it is not good enough they don’t get another chance, I move on to the next translator.



Certainly the best solution. Translator may consume enormous amount of time to translate a short test, however, he/she will never repeat it later in real job.


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