Translation tests – to do or not to do?
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Translation tests have become a hot topic among professional translators. Many are strictly against them and claim that their skills and expertise can be shown by giving samples or that recommendations are much better. In some situations I agree completely, especially for experienced translators with great recommendations and references. However, I do think there is also a time and place for translation tests.

 Disadvantages with translation tests

 Working for free – It is inevitable have to do certain tasks for free. If you want to get hired by a certain client requiring a translation test, you will have to be willing to take a short test. This can be seen as a long term investment. If you opt to send sample texts instead, you risk being weeded out.

 Being used by an agency who does not want to pay for the work – There are rumors that there are agencies that take a text, break it up into small pieces and send the text out to translators as a test to avoid having to pay translators for the job. Perhaps there is an ounce of truth in it but if there is an agency doing this they cannot do this for long, since the translation they deliver to the client will be of different style, lack consistency and not be of very high quality. There is no way of protecting yourself from this, other than checking the company out beforehand, and taking a good look at the test piece. The text should be general (within the subject area) and not include company names and specifics.

 Advantages with translation tests

Tests are very useful for clients with large projects, where the test is a short extract of the text to be translated. This way the agency can test not only the accuracy of the translation, but also more subjective things, such as style. An agency can ask for a translation test for a certain project and then give the tests to a subject matter expert in the target language. The subject matter expert is hired by the agency as a consultant and can tell the LSP whether the translator indeed possess the subject matter expertise and language expertise needed by a certain client, for a certain project.

 A translation test for a large project can also be useful for the translator, who can assess the precise nature and level of complexity of the text. The translator can use this in negotiations for rate and turnaround time.

 What you can do

 Translation tests do not always have to be free. There are agencies willing to pay for your time. All you have to do is ask, but be careful and approach this with diplomacy; otherwise you can risk being sorted out as too demanding. Personally, I also try not to accept tests over 300 words and most clients are happy to cap their test off for me. These clients are true professionals and not out to “get you”. The important thing when being approached about doing a translation test is that you counter offer with your demands, for example a maximum of 300 words, ask for minimum payment if possible, and a reasonable deadline. If you have performed a test for someone and failed, you should also ask to receive feedback so that you can learn from your mistakes for the future.

 What do you think of translation tests? Do you k now of any other advantages or disadvantages? Please share!

Swedish Translation Services is a company owned by Tess Whitty, a freelance translator (English-Swedish), proofreader, editor, copy writer, localizer and entrepreneur.


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  3. Personally I do not take tests. I simply point out that I have over 30 years of experience, that they can confirm through my Proz or other translation site pages that I have been around for decades, and that my customers have left good feedback about me. That should be enough for any reasonable customer. But then, I do not need the money so much as to have to perform tests, I have a good customer base…

  4. I don’t know how the others feel about this. As for me, I decided not to do unpaid test translations which are not related to the job to be performed.

    They say new translators need experience to work in the industry but not hire them due to the lack of it. New translators can only get experience by doing what is required of a professional in the real world (not translation tests to see if they are ready or not). This way they will never be ready!!!

  5. Steve Vitek says:

    I never ask a translator to do a test for me.
    I either ask for a sample, or send a short job first.
    This is because I think that asking people to work for free is highly unethical. Period.

    If you agree to work for free, you are really saying that your work is worthless.
    Which other professions will agree to work for free in return for a vague promise of a possible job future?

    None. This is how highly we value the translating profession.

  6. This is a nice overview of the pros and cons of taking translation tests. I’m glad to see you take a diplomatic viewpoint – one which I also subscribe to.

    I have no issue with taking short (250-300 words) tests, even if they’re unpaid. I don’t begrudge the agency/client my time, as these tests have almost always led to work. Also, if you applied for a regular in-house job you’d expect the be interviewed without getting paid, even if you do have glowing references already.

    I have often found tests, and the way they are handled at the other end, to be a great indicator of whether a company will be good to work with for me, as well. I’ve been sent tests that are completely irrelevant to my areas of expertise, which are clearly indicated on my website! You know what to do when that happens…

  7. Jo Sheldon says:

    Interesting post Tess! I can see both sides to the issue of test translations too. I once recruited a translator for a large medical job into English, without testing him, as he had sent me an impressive CV and sample texts, and was very friendly and helpful. But when he sent me the translation back, everything seemed to be fine at first, until I got half way through and it had been Google translated! I have tried to be as careful as possible ever since!

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