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Poll: Are translation tests a reliable prerequisite for selecting a translator?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 18:21
SITE STAFF
Jun 18, 2009

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Are translation tests a reliable prerequisite for selecting a translator?".

This poll was originally submitted by Alekos Psimikakis

View the poll here

A forum topic will appear each time a new poll is run. For more information, see: http://proz.com/topic/33629


 

Fahd Hassanein  Identity Verified
Egypt
Local time: 04:21
Member (2009)
English to Arabic
+ ...
It depends! Jun 18, 2009

I believe it depends on a number of factors including but not limited to:

- The Company's strictness in defining the parameters through which it evaluates the test result.

- The test's real representation of the subject field. An electrocardiography device's manual is not just a general medical subject.

- The translator's real grip of the subject field. Translation is not just about having a pile - or foldericon_biggrin.gif - of dictionaries. The feel of the language structure and how it delivers the meaning is still the translator's point of difference. So, I believe doing well on a certain test does not necessarily mean the translator's work would always be flawless in that field unless he shows that real grip.

...........................

[Edited at 2009-06-18 23:03 GMT]


 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:21
German to English
Tests only eliminate the utterly incompetent Jun 19, 2009

Ideally a translation test should include a short sample of text with typical language-specific translation problems. Other elements should include questions regarding standard reference works for the language/subject matter, as well as a list of typical subject-matter related abbreviations/acronyms to be resolved.

In my experience (I've reviewed dozens, perhaps even hundreds of tests), even a well-structured translation test eliminates only fools and the utterly incompetent, about one third of the applicants for any project. Unfortunately, tests do not always exclude poor or inexperienced translators. As a consequence, the work of these individuals often has to be retranslated. When such translators are released from a project, their complaint starts with "But I passed the test ..."


 

Gianluca Marras  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 03:21
Member (2008)
English to Italian
it depends. Jun 19, 2009

a test gives a general idea of accuracy, style ecc, but an important factor is: how do you work on the long run? I mean a 250 word test can't tell if you are able to keep the good features of a tranlation till the end.

 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:21
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Yes Jun 19, 2009

An adequate test can help choosing the right translator for a team. The mere existence of a test also helps measuring a translator's responsiveness and professionalism.

 

Jon Hedemann  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:21
English to Danish
+ ...
Translation degree required Jun 19, 2009

As a minimum, the translator should have BA/MA degree in translation.

 

Jocelyne S  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:21
French to English
+ ...
Depends on the test Jun 19, 2009

Some tests are so basic that they are not at all effective in judging a translator's abilities, other than perhaps spotting a penchant for typos or faults in basic sentence structure, grammar, natural flow, etc.

If well chosen, however, a test can be a good means of judging a translator's potential.

I don't do many tests, although I have seen a few short but very well thought-out tests which in less than 200 words are able to test a number of different factors important when selecting a translator. In my experience, such tests are also generally indicative of an interesting customer - one who takes the time to choose translators based on skill, expertise, and overall competence.

Best,
Jocelyne


 

Thomas Johansson  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 21:21
Member (2005)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Degree in philosophy and ancient Greek required Jun 19, 2009

As a minimum, the translator should have BA/MA degree in philosophy and ancient Greek.

 

Mette Melchior  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 03:21
English to Danish
+ ...
Depends on the test - but generally yes Jun 19, 2009

At least it can give an indicator of how that translator works and his/her writing and translation skills, but as others have commented the usefulness of it depends on the test.

I have helped one of my clients assess translation samples, and I was very surprised to see that some people offer translation services and then deliver a translation test for a potential new client where they haven't even run the spell checker or proofread the text themselves to catch a word missing, grammatical errors, etc. At least a test can help to sort these out from the start.

Good writing skills and thoroughness is a must!


 

keelin feeney  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 02:21
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other - They can reduce the list of applicants Jun 19, 2009

In a situation where an outsourcer puts up a job in Proz, s/he could get 10 replies. The translation tests certainly help to discard applications, reduce the list of applicants and come to a decision (or get closer to making one).

Tests that have not been spell-checked, with mistakes in the vocabulary for that particular subject, when the language does not flow...these are reasons for refusing an application immediately.

Tests are also good when there are 10 + applicants because it is more likely that the person who does know his/her stuff will get the job, at least over people who really do not know the field all that well. That is because this person should be able to hand over a quality translation quickly, while the other applicants struggle with the vocabulary and take longer.

After the translation test and discarding poor quality work, the next step is definitely the university qualification. While translation tests are not necessarily a reliable prerequisite, they are certainly a very useful aid.


 

Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:21
Flemish to English
+ ...
Some agencies. Jun 19, 2009

There are a few agencies whose translation tests of 250 words are difficult.
Those 250 words test every skill possible: translation skill, dexterity in the use of language, looking for equivalent puns ...
These tests are meant to separate the wheat from the chaff.


 

Didier Caizergues
Local time: 03:21
English to French
+ ...
I'm not convinced... At all! Jun 19, 2009

I agree with those who say you must "seperate the wheat from the chaff" somehow, but some companies or translation firms seldom take two things into account when they devise tests:

1) The shape the testee is in when he or she takes the test. It may sound trivial, but come on, how many of us are at their utmost best from 7 in the morning til 11 at night? The only way to really assert someone's language skills is, in my humble opinion, to do it face to face. Delivering a good written translation you've had ample time to work on is one thing; being quick on your feet enough to translate conversations back and forth is quite another exercice. I should know about it.

2) The tests themselves are often unlinked to actual material. They lack the usual background we often rely on to perform a good job. I've done litterary translations, and in some cases, I found hints about this sentence or that keyword in page 10 at page 250 out of 580... This goes for technical translation too: some IT companies provide a more structured material to translate from. There's a form of logic there that you seldom find in basic testing material. Plus, you don't have the impression of wasting your time... I'd rather be tested on actual material, even for free and after signing a non-disclosure agreement, than be judged on bits of user's manuals that have been chosen, more often than not, by people who wouldn't recognize a good translator if he (or she) bit them in the proverbial backside...

But hey, that's just my opinion...icon_wink.gif


 

Anita Cassidy  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2005)
English to German
depends on the evaluation method Jun 19, 2009

Translation tests can be useful if the texts are chosen carefully AND evaluated by an experienced professional.

Some agencies seem to choose inappropriate texts, or have inexperienced translators or even non-linguists "check" the test translations. This once happened to me soon after I started out as a freelance - the office manager of an agency (who definitely had no linguistic/translation background whatsoever, but was a native German speaker) "evaluated" the legal test piece I had done for them into German by informing me that it "looked good" to her.


 

Anna Katikhina  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:21
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
Mostly yes :) Jun 19, 2009

Project-specific tests do help. As for the rest - well obviously it highly depends on the situation, subject field, etc.

In general a short test translation lets me understand:
- if a person has a good command of the translation language (if he/she uses appropritate grammatical and lexical structures, if he/she can make the text "sound" good and competent. In fact, it's one of the worst problems with Russian translators);
- if a person is attentive and meticulous enough (for instance, if he/she bothers to look for any additional material, search the web, etc to find most appropriate translation of certain terms and expressions)

Even simple test pieces can show this. And in my opinion that's already quite enough to decide whether you can work with this person or had better not. Those who pass these two points may have further mistakes in their works, but at least it's most likely that the mistakes won't be numerous or fatal. That's what editors exist for, after all. Working with those who don't pass, or only pass one of these points, will be a trouble as their works will most likely have to be completely retranslated or at least rephrased.

And, if the subject is really specific, then of course a test translation can show if a person actually has any knowledge in the field.

I'm not sure if MA/BA in linguistics/translation can be a realiable guide as I've met dozens of MAs and BAs who couldn't translate a simple phrase into their native language without making it sound awkward, as if it was a machine translation. Experience is more important, I think. However this doesn't mean that specialized education is not a plus. If a person doesn't stop at a university degree and further participates in various enhancement trainings, if he/she belongs to any professional communities, uses specialized programs, etc, it's a good sign showing that a person definitely works on his/her professional skills, invests time and money in them, which implies that he/she is a reliable professional.


 

Evija Rimšāne  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 04:21
English to Latvian
False statement Jun 19, 2009

Jon Hedemann wrote:

As a minimum, the translator should have BA/MA degree in translation.


Are you sure? Actually, it depends on your abilities, talents, skills, knowledge, erudition, grasp of languages, etc. A friend of mine who holds BA in translation very often cannot cope with translations as good as I can, and even asks me for help very frequently (like helping to find a term, catch the meaning of a particular sentence, etc.), and she even sometimes asks me to revise her test translations for potential new clients. And I hold "only" Bachelor degree in Sciences (Bus/Marketing) and MBA degree...
P.S. Of course, she is just one example, as I know many of them because I have worked as a PM at a translation agency and experienced a lot of the above mentioned. It's not a secret that many people will never be able to express themselves smoothly, correctly in terms of language style, etc. no matter how hard they try. It's just - not everything is meant for everyone.icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2009-06-19 12:28 GMT]


 
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