Performing free test translations

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See also: Test translations as tools for agencies


Contents

Abstract

  • Test translations are one of the tools used by outsourcers to evaluate service providers. Sometimes these tests are paid, but in many instances translators are required to perform them for free before they are granted any paid assignment.
  • This note discussed the approach of translators to free test translations, including the conditions that many evaluate when deciding if they will perform a test translation or not.


Free test translations in translators associations' code of professional conduct

In their code of professional conduct, certain translator associations address the question of free sample translations in one way or another. Please add here the applicable provisions of the code of conduct for various translators associations.

  • American Translators Association's (ATA) Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices says: As an employer or contractor of translators and/or interpreters, I will ... commit myself to the following practices with translators and interpreters: ... I will not require translators or interpreters to do unpaid work for the prospect of a paid assignment.
    This implies that outsourcers requiring free sample translations from translators as unpaid work act against the ATA's code of professional conduct.

Translators and free test translations

  • On February 2009 the poll asked "Do you perform free test translations?" and got 1806 replies, where
    • 57.5% answered "yes",
    • 30.4 said "it depends",
    • 11.1% said "no" and
    • 0.9% answered other - N/A.


Translators who don't do free test translations

  • Some translators are opposed on principle to free test translations, equating them with free work. The code of professional conduct of certain translator associations, for example the ATA, support this point of view. These colleagues consider that agencies should select their translators by other means, including:
    • Sample translations performed by the translators and made available in their portfolios.
    • by means of small, non-critical paid jobs thoroughly proofread to evaluate the professional and build mutual trust.
  • Others reject the "free work" argument contending that a translation test is not work. Either it is a test or it is work: if it is work, it should be paid, and if it is a test, it cannot be used or sold to a third person.
    • Other add that it would not be reasonable to start invoicing a new client a few dollars for a small test before a commercial relationship has been established.
  • Other colleagues do not oppose test translations on principle but they stopped doing them because they don't expect them to lead to real customers, and therefore don't consider them to be be a reasonable investment.


Are we the only professionals asked to perform free tests?

  • A classical argument against test translations, especially when they are not paid, is that translators are the only professionals who are asked to perform free tests (unlike for instance taxi drivers, dentists, doctors or lawyers). This is a contested issues with many opinions for and against it:
  • Against: translation is much easier to be tested than the output of doctors and lawyers, and therefore constitute a reasonable way to verify that the translator can provide the service he/she claims to provide.
  • Against: these are quite different cases, as in these cases there is an actual service to be enjoyed for free. In a translation test, the prospect is not asking you for a free translation (which will be used or sold), but a proof of your ability to perform the expected task.
  • Against: You are not offered a free test meal at a restaurant, but in the translation world the agency is the restaurant, not the person sitting at the table waiting for dinner to be served, and you are the chef. Besides, to continue the analogy, at a respectable restaurant you certainly take a sip of wine for free before you buy the bottle.
  • Against: other freelancers, particularly of the more creative arts very often have to audition, or submit samples of their work, to make sure that they're a good fit for the particular job and can deliver. This happens to actors, musicians, entertainers, writers, composers, painters, etc., even if they're already reasonably well known, and it is a good way to compare the quality of several similar providers, even if - or particularly when - they're all good.
    • For: How much control does an actor have on the outcome of an audition? They usually don't get instant feedback as the decision makers want to avoid long discussions on their decisions. It's "Don't call us, we call you!". I doubt they get much in the line of feedback anyways. They get the part, or they don't. How is that different? Who's to say that all the decisions are fair and not guided by personal interests?
  • Against: this applies to other professions: before a chef is hired for an expensive restaurant, s/he is likely to be required to do some free test cooking. Also, a window dresser might have to do a free window display, a baker selling weddings cakes probably has to provide some free samples before the happy couple picks one, etc.
    • For: both the artist and the chef get instant assessments or feedback on the spot, and they know who assess them. In the case of translators most of the time the client himself is not in a position to provide feedback - simply because they don't speak the language - and the assessor might be someone with dubious skills. You have no control over the process and the 'feedback' may not help you in any way, at all.
  • Against: a chef won't get an instant result either, nor do applicants for other positions. After all, the decision makers have to get an idea of all competitors before they choose.
  • Against: a lot of business providers offer specials, introductory rates etc. in order to gain new clients. This is much more likely for providers who aim to enter a long-term business relationship than for taxi drivers and similar one-time-only service providers. You have also these "Buy two, get one free" campaigns. As part of marketing campaigns, freebies are rather common.
    • For: translators do not create a product but supply a service. A service is not something that comes out of an assembly band that mass creates the product at one go. Translators can't afford to sell three for the price of two because they have to invest their time and skills separately in all three of them.
      • Against: simply because a product has been mass produced does not mean that no time and skill have been invested in it. It often takes a lot of time and money (and brain power) to develop a finished product and marketing it, even if this product in the end doesn't cost much. They spent a lot of money before they even see a single penny in return. In comparison, a short test translation is a very cheap investment and therefore also a small - and very calculable - risk.
      • Of course, the manufacturers have to recover these investment costs somehow, otherwise the company would go bankrupt. And there's nothing from keeping translators to recover their marketing costs - including the cost of the occasional test translation - by having adequate rates in the first place that give them a wide enough margin.
  • Against: it is not about correlating between different professions. Test translations and other introductory offers constitute just one way to market whatever it is you're selling.
  • Against: it is not about finding that profession A is exactly like the profession of a translator. It's about marketing strategies, which can take many different forms but often follow very similar concepts.

Test translations and scams

  • We have all heard stories of unscrupulous agencies who cut a document in small pieces, send them as free test translations to so many different freelancers and then send the resulting document to their client, thus getting a translation for free.
  • It is hard to assess how widespread this practice may be, but the resulting quality should be most probably unacceptable, so in general this should be a self-defeating strategy. Some ways to protect ourselves from this kind of scams are to investigate the potential outsourcer and to limit the size of the tests we are ready to perform.
  • Experienced translators would be likely to recognize this behavior on the spot, as "good" test translations usually have a characteristic structure and level of difficulty, while a section just cut from a translation usually does not sound OK, with poorly defined beginnings and ends and sorely lacking in context.
  • Another dishonest usage of free test translators would be that of approaching an expert translator to do the translator test requested by the final customers and then, once the job was won, to perform the actual job with less experienced, less expensive translators who would probably have been rejected if they had performed the test.
  • Again in this case a good evaluation of the agency is the best defense weapon. A serious outsourcer should not be expected to incur in these disputable practices because they are likely to result in an unsatisfied end client and therefore are short-sighted and self-defeating.
  • In short, test translations should not be "criminalized" because of a few scattered bad outsourcers that should be filtered out with some basic risk management measures.

Translators who do free test translations

  • Even though the poll tells us that they are in the majority, this group is usually underrepresented in the discussions. Some positive arguments are:
  • Test translations is part of the self promotion efforts that freelancers perform like any other business entity.
  • Test translations help the translator decide if he/she wants to accept the job. If the sample is poorly written, or if is too far out of the translator's area of expertise, if may tell him/her that it would be better to skip the opportunity.
  • A test translation may help the client know how a translator plans to handle the particular job in question. This may contribute to align expectations and help build a long lasting relationship.
  • Assuming the job being discussed is of a reasonable length, translating a short excerpt a fair bargain. As a translator, you get some sense of the content and quality of the original (turn it down if it is messy or outside of your areas of expertise). And the agency or client gets some sense of the quality of your work.
  • If you charge rates that are higher than average, one good way to win new clients is by proving your work to be superior.
  • Translation tests provide opportunities to show your translation abilities. Clients who do not care about quality are difficult to retain them long-term.
  • Nothing wrong with a translator who decides that test translations are a good marketing investment. It's a very small investment targeted at one specific client with whom one would like to work together. In my book, that makes good business sense.

Conditions that induce us to take a free test translation

  • When a translator is asked by a potential client to perform a test translation, several factors are normally evaluated in order to make a decision to to it or not. The most common are:


Reasonable length

  • As with other parameters, the "standard" volume for a test should be determined by a variety of factors. Translators should consider the source, the value, the risk, and decide whether it's worth the while.
  • Most translators willing to do free test translations agree that they should not be longer that a few hundreds of words, with maximum values usually ranging from 100 to 300 words.
  • In general, for most translation jobs, there is an agreement that a request above these limits should be considered a job and should be paid for.
  • There are situations where a longer test translation could be acceptable.
    • A possible example is that of book translations, where the publisher often asks for an a couple of pages or even an entire chapter as a sample.
    • Another example could be a large contract involving different types of texts, where translators could be asked to do a 450 words long test, consisting of 3 sample texts on different subjects.
  • It is not uncommon for longer tests to be remunerated. A translator related that he usually translate the preface or the first chapter of the book. If he gets the job, the test payment is included in the contract and the translation is returned with comments and corrections so that it can be used as a guide for the translation. When he is not awarded the job, he makes an invoice and the test is paid as a regular translation project.



Reasonable deadline

  • Test translations should be given a reasonable and flexible deadline, as they should receive less priority than paid work.
  • A test translation with a tight deadline are less likely to be accepted.
    • In some cases, when the customer is unknown, deadline is tight, the test is rather long and it looks like taken from the middle of a document, you may suspect the possibility of unfair practices.


Interesting subject and text

  • Translators are more likely to do a free test translation on topic under his/her own interesting scopes or disciplines.
  • Besides, the subject, the depth of the technical issues and the register employed in the test document can provide the translator a valuable indicator to decide if the job should be accepted or declined.
  • Test translations in your own fields of expertise could provide a way to test your knowledge and to develop my own ability.
  • A good, challenging text can also be appreciated by specialists, who will be more willing to do a "hard one" where they can really show how good they are. A "soft" and general text is less likely to be a tool appropriate to show the own excellence.


Interesting client

  • Since a test translation is a way to get a job, translations should evaluate first if they would be willing to work for that outsourcer before spending time on the test translation.
  • First of all, you should do your risk management homework to define if you would be willing to work for that outsourcer. {article needed on " Risk management: should I work for that outsourcer?"}
  • Also, a test translation requested in a polite and reasonable way has more chances of being accepted by translators.
  • A reputable agency has more chances of having competent reviewers/proofreaders, a very relevant factor when submitting a test translation.


Feedback

  • One common complaint among translators is the lack of feedback received regarding their test translations. A professional review of a test, even a failed one, can be a valuable learning experience for a translator and compensate for the effort of providing the free test.
    • It is not easy to know beforehand if such feedback will be provided, but a good agency and a good communication process may also help in this area.


Reasonable communications

  • Translators should know the basic conditions for the offered work before they engage in the test translation, as it would be a waste of time to do a test for a job they would not accept anyway.
  • Issues to be clarified beforehand include size of the job, expected deadline, format considerations and of course rates.
    • Other relevant factors include information on what feedback can be expected from the test, the prospected number of test repliers, etc.


Interesting opportunity

  • Last but not least, a test translation is more likely to be performed as a step to get a large and attractive work at a good rate.
  • The current level of activity is also relevant. If full employment and revenue maximization are the goal, then during slow periods, one seeks new business and test translations are part of that.


  • The translator's position along the career path is another factor. A test that may be of little relevance for a veteran professional with well established prestige in a given field of expertise could be a good opportunity to a student or a new translator.
  • Some are unwilling to perform free test translations if an agency is acting on its own behalf in seeking them out, but would be willing to take the test if it is imposed by the end client and is a means to help the agency - and hence the translator - to get the job.


Further reading

unfiltered notes

During ProZ.com's 2011 recruitment virtual event, chat about working with translation agencies, it was suggested that a standardization or code of conduct surrounding sample translation tests be developed. These are some of the ideas/notes from that group chat - unfiltered/unedited.

  • Require feedback after test
  • require disclosure on how many tests have been sent/requested (or limit to X)
  • No more than 250 words



Discussion related to this article

Please note that ProZ.com forum rules apply to this area.


Performing free test translations

Astrid Elke Witte Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:48
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
The circumstances of a free test translation are also to be taken into accountSep 11, 2010

It appears to be happening with increasing frequency that translators are being asked by agencies to do short test translations, requested by specific clients, even when the translators in question are regular suppliers of the agency, and the agency has had every opportunity to assess the translator's work.

I would be very interested to know what colleagues think of this. I am of the opinion that doing a test translation for a new agency, with which I have never worked before, may be feasible, but to be asked to do a free test translation for an agency with which I have been working for a long time is not acceptable.


 

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.) Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 01:48
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
My personal policiesSep 12, 2010

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:
I would be very interested to know what colleagues think of this. I am of the opinion that doing a test translation for a new agency, with which I have never worked before, may be feasible, but to be asked to do a free test translation for an agency with which I have been working for a long time is not acceptable.

In my policies, I do free test translation for:

1. New and challenging contexts.
2. New, big job volumes and interesting clients.
3. Killing my free time.
4. never expecting a certain job offer
5. Test volume I freely select based on my free time, preference etc.
And 6. Test for certain countries of clients (and never for some countries).

Soonthon Lpkitaro

[Edited at 2010-09-12 00:56 GMT]


 

Yasutomo Kanazawa Identity Verified
Local time: 03:48
English to Japanese
+ ...
Vote for AgainstSep 12, 2010

I've written this a few times in the forum, but I am one of those against doing test translations. Only when they pay me, I'll do them. My main reason is that from my experience, free test translations led me to nowhere, and moreover, 99.9% of the time, I get no feedback whatsoever. It's a real waste of time, especially when it's for a potential job.

 

Lingua 5B Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 19:48
German to Serbian
+ ...
Tests done under bizarre circumstances.Sep 12, 2010

They ask the tests to be taken by people with degrees already having been assessed and qualified by relevant bodies. On the other hand, they are offering a blind assessment by an "unknown freelance proofreader", which is a little absurd.

However, I'm not against the tests followed by correct procedures. These procedures cost money, mostly because relevant reviewers cost money, which most agencies will not spend because they are about saving money ( usually at the translator's expense).


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:48
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Depends on whether it is for a trusted customerSep 12, 2010

My trusted customers sometimes ask for a test to be used as part of their bidding process for a large project. I normally do the test for free --although in many cases they pay for it in the end-- since I am interested in helping my customer get the job: after all, I will be translating the big project later on, being their main source for Spanish translation. From a business point of view I find it good to offer that relatively small freebie to my trusted customers.

Now, it is a different thing if we are talking about a new customer or a customer who has more teams in your language pairs. By doing the test, you could help the company get the job, but they might give the work to a different person. That's why I expect to be paid in this situation.


 

Pablo Bouvier Identity Verified
Local time: 19:48
German to Spanish
+ ...
Performing free test translationsSep 12, 2010

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

It appears to be happening with increasing frequency that translators are being asked by agencies to do short test translations, requested by specific clients, even when the translators in question are regular suppliers of the agency, and the agency has had every opportunity to assess the translator's work.

I would be very interested to know what colleagues think of this. I am of the opinion that doing a test translation for a new agency, with which I have never worked before, may be feasible, but to be asked to do a free test translation for an agency with which I have been working for a long time is not acceptable.


This is what I think about: http://www.proz.com/forum/business_issues/149581-sample_translation_of_more_than_1000_words-page2.html#1259342


 

Odette Bélanger Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:48
French
+ ...
test translationsSep 12, 2010

I did some once in a while, but found that it may be a good trick for the askers to have some part (although very short) of their translations done FREE and then, for some obscure reasons, you are not choosen or they "put you on their list".

I have then taken the option of never doing free tests anymore. However, I minimize the amount I ask for those tests by asking a reasonable lump sum. Perhaps if the amount of work involved is huge, I may take a chance of doing a free translation test. However, since I am a member of a professional translating corporation (OTTIAQ) and a certified translator, I don't see the point of asking me to do a test. It is just like not recognizing the criterias of that professional corporation.


 

George Hopkins
Local time: 19:48
Swedish to English
There's no such thing as a free lunchSep 12, 2010

Don't do translations for free.

Suggest instead that the potential customer sends you a piece to be translated at an agreed price, translate part of it at your discretion send it back for approval or rejection. If approved, complete the translation and send a bill. If rejected, then goodbye and no hard feelings.


 

chopra_2002 Identity Verified
India
Local time: 00:18
Member (2008)
English to Hindi
+ ...
There may be a genuine reason for test translationSep 12, 2010

The agencies for whom are work, are quite convinced with the quality of my work but they sometimes mention that they need to provide the test translation to another agency which wants to be assured about quality before assigning a voluminous project.

Much to my surprise, sometimes, the agencies inform me that it is a test translation but I'll be paid for it and I should provide the best possible translation.

Regards,

Chopra


 

Suzette Martin-Johnson
Canada
French to English
+ ...
DittoSep 13, 2010

Yasutomo Kanazawa wrote:

I've written this a few times in the forum, but I am one of those against doing test translations. Only when they pay me, I'll do them. My main reason is that from my experience, free test translations led me to nowhere, and moreover, 99.9% of the time, I get no feedback whatsoever. It's a real waste of time, especially when it's for a potential job.


Only one of the several agencies I've been suckered into doing a test for has ever actually sent me work. Just the other day I got one from an agency in Montreal that I didn't even get around to doing - it was a page and a half single space! Pity, because it seemed like a good agency but I simply didn't have the time to be added to a mysterious database and not contacted after spending time slaving over unpaid work.

No-has ever offered me payment for one of these "test" translations.


 

Michael Wetzel Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:48
German to English
certification and areas if expertiseSep 13, 2010

Hello,
I am against what was described in the original question: free translations for an agency that needs them in the course of a bidding process.

If the agency's potential customer wants a sample translation, this is an aspect of the agency's entrepeneurial risk and the cost ought to be the agency's responsibility and not mine. It is the same case as when the agency's customer cancels an order or doesn't pay: I am hired to produce a good translation and the amount of profit or loss that the agency derives from it is the agency's business.

Sample translations should certainly not be free: If this became standard practice, it would hardly be possible for anyone who does not already have a large pool of reliable direct customers to earn a living.

Regarding certified translators: The point that assessments are probably usually carried out in a non-professional way is a valid critique.
However, the fact that an individual is a certified translator certainly isn't a significant indication that he or she can deliver a good translation of an academic article on rocket science.
In theory, such professionals would never bid on such projects unless qualified, but this theory may not always reflect reality. Forcing (paid and properly assessed) sample translations upon certified translators seems perfectly reasonable in many cases.

Sincerely,
Michael


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 19:48
English to Polish
+ ...
Free sample of their review processJun 18, 2013

Participating in a free test may give you a sample of their review practices in turn. Better to identify an agency that trusts a so-so or outright incompetent proofreader or reviewer earlier than later, and better after a short free sample than a long translation that you have done in reliance on an expectation of payment.

I don't mind longer tests because they are likely to be more fair in the hands of a qualified examiner. In my experience, short tests may be an exercise in meeting the examiner's terminological preference rather than actually translating. There is less risk of being failed simply for choosing a different convention out of available alternatives. There is also more context if your sample is longer. You also get more opportunity to show off sustained high quality. Again, the same goes for the examiner. A whimsical or less than competent reviewer will be more likely to show his true colours over some 500 words of a specialised or literary text. A shorter one might fail to trigger his antics.

Some things I don't like:

- Tests that contain serious errors (unless the meaning is clear).
– Tests that aren't representative of the field (e.g. an accounting document for law).
– Legal translation tests concentrating on the first page of a contract or judgment. There's really nothing interesting there from the point of view of evaluating a translator's ability to translate. It only checks whether the translator and examiner have the same default choices, as if the agency and translator couldn't establish a style guide or glossary.


 

Nick_Baker
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:48
Italian to English
+ ...
Testing Methodology Feb 12

Interesting and relevant comments, and I agree with the points about when a test should be free or paid. Actually, on balance I think tests should be paid for because the cost is marginal, it concentrates the mind of the recruiter on whom to consider, and it treats the professional translator with some modicum of respect.

The main problem with the tests used by agencies, apart from the way they are implemented, is the absence of rigorous testing methodology. They appear, in many cases, to be 'homespun' and thus unreliable as indicators of competence. That's why in all probability one rarely gets a marked-up copy back. Many of the 'corrections' by the revising translator could very well be open to challenge.


 

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