Free test translations
Thread poster: BirgitBerlin

BirgitBerlin  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:32
English to German
+ ...
Nov 14, 2011

Hello everyone.

Today I received a request for a free test translation from an agency.
The test piece in question consisted 66 words, including not one full sentence. How can you establish the quality of a translator from 66 words, all in bullet-style short terms?

I have told them that I am not prepared to do a free test as this to me looks like they are looking for a cheap way of getting a translation done.
They have written back to me that they are a serious agency and would never do a scam, but I cannot see how they can evaluate my skills from a few short words.

How do you deal with matters like this? Do you provide free test translations? Or do you ignore such requests?

I have been burnt before so I am rather careful these days.

[Edited at 2011-11-14 13:41 GMT]


Thayenga  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:32
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
66 words Nov 14, 2011

Seems to me like they are trying to add these words to their MT database.
Why else would an agency request a free test translation (of words without a clear context)?

Like you did, I would politely inform them that I will not do a translation of single words, then add that I'd be happy to do a small test translation of complete sentences which would enable the agency to determine whether my qualifcations as a translator meets their expectations. In case they send you one, make sure none of the "loose" words are included.icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2011-11-14 13:07 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-11-14 13:08 GMT]


Rosa Grau (X)
Local time: 20:32
English to Catalan
+ ...
False tests Nov 14, 2011

Dear Birgit,

I usually do tests that look like unpaid translations if it takes me not more than 10 minutes and I am in real need for work. You never know, it may earn you a client in the future. In any case, I believe that the results of their bad actions are only theirs.

I wish such things did not happen though.



Tony M
Local time: 20:32
French to English
+ ...
My policy is generally to refuse Nov 14, 2011

As a general principle, I refuse all translation and / or editing tests, unless there are exceptional circumstances. In some cases, I offer to do a paid test, with the proposal to deduct the cost of this test from the first 'real' job invoiced for the same client.

As you say, I feel most test translations are in any case a waste of time:

1) It's difficult to assess a translator's ability from a short extract.

That said, I have myself been asked to assess a number of 220-word IT > EN test translations, and I was appalled at just how easy it was to weed out the 'hopeless' from the 'potentials'; out of around 20 translations by people claiming to be 'professional' translators in this language pair having with EN as their mother tongue, at least 5 made errorsthat unmistakeably betrayed the fact that they were anything but native speakers of English; of the remainder, about 4 made basic errors of comprehension in the IT text that even I (as a non-speaker of IT!) was able to spot!!! 5 more made other mistakes and/or expressed themselves poorly in EN, and in the end, only about 4 showed enough promise to be worth shortlisting.

So even on such a short test, it was certainly possible at least to reject the worst cases.

2) A test like this does not enable the translator to present themselves in the most favourable light: for a start, a short extract taken out of context deprives you of all that valuable information that you might have gleaned from the rest of the document; in some cases, I ask the customer to send me the entire document, simply highlighting the test passage. This can also be quite revealing, since one may sometimes find a whole string of KudoZ questions from various translators asking about terms from various bits of the document — I smell a rat!

But in any case, for a free translation, I cannot possibly afford to invest the time needed to research terms etc. properly (which investment I would of course be making in the context of a much large job that was also remunerated!)

On the rare occasions when I do do free tests, I usually use some kind of a 'spoiler' so they will be difficult if not impossible for the agency to use. For example, I usually put copious margin 'comments' explaining my doubts or queries about a certain expression, and with ambiguous terms, I usually leave the source term in, and add a margin comment explaining some of the terminological choices that might be possible.
I think this serves a two-fold purpose: a) it acts as something of a spoiler; and b), by revealing my way of working and thought processes like this, as well as showing how thoughtful, conscientious, and meticulous I am, it actually enables me to turn a disadvantage into an advantage, as I think that sort of information says a lot more about how good or bad I am as a translator than the mere end result would have done. It's surprising how often I have had feedback from customers complimenting me on my thinking and questions, saying that the mere way I have formulated my questions shows just how good a grasp of the subject I have.

3) Any self-respecting agency ought to be able to give a new translator a small job in order to gauge their competence in a 'real' situation; or at least, be prepared themselves to invest in a short paid test. In my own case, I believe that my credentials in the industry are well proven, and a certain amount of trust is to be expected, and indeed, is usually forthcoming. I can understand that a test translation might be reassuring for an agency when dealing with a newcomer or less experienced translator; and it is also clear that when you are employing people at the 'bargain bucket' end of the market, it does seem like a sensible precaution (as in the IT > EN case I mentoned above!)

I have found that one of the ways I have "got my foot in the door" with new customers has been to take on a small proofing job for them, which gives them at least some insight into the quality of my work, before moving on to a fully-fledged translation project.

One agency for whom I did do a test translation recently [they have a 5 rating on BB] issued me with 3 very short extracts of text in 3 quite different fields, styles, and registers. This was clearly a thoughtful, intelligent approach, and enabled me to present a much better picture of my capabilities, as well as giving them an opportunity to judge my overall approach and adaptability.


BirgitBerlin  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:32
English to German
+ ...
Thanks for your thoughts on free tests Nov 14, 2011

Thank you everyone, and Tony in particular for your thoughts.
The reason why I smelled a rat was that the "test" in question was so extremely short and delivered in a table-format Word doc.

[Edited at 2011-11-14 20:55 GMT]


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