Test translations as tools for agencies

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See also: Performing free test translations


Contents

Abstract

  • On January 2006 a ProZ.com quick poll asked: "Some outsourcers use test translations in their translator qualification process. Is this wise? Of the 910 site users who voted:
    • 56.7% answered yes,
    • 28.0% were not sure and
    • 15.3 voted for the negative.
  • This article discusses test translations from the point of view of the outsourcer, as a tools for selecting and qualifying translators and as part of the quality process.


Free test translations

  • Many translators consider that free test translations are improper because they amount to performing free work. They contend that agencies have other possible ways beyond free test translations to assess their prospective translators' competences:
    • Test translations can be paid, and sometimes this payment is credited against the price of the actual assignment.
    • Outsourcers can initially grant small paid assignments to translators in order to limit their exposure. In this case the agency can reserve the right to make ex-post deductions if the quality doesn't live up to the promise.
    • Translators can create a portfolio containing samples of different genres that can be offered to potential clients for review.
    • Translators may have published work in the public domain that can be evaluated by potential outsourcers.


Free test translations in translators associations' code of professional conduct

In their code of professional conduct, certain translator associations treat 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 endorsing the ATA's code of professional conduct do not require do not to require free sample translations from translators.
  • [1]INDIAN TRANSLATORS ASSOCIATION's (ITAINDIA) Code of Professional Conduct says exactly the same: As an employer or contractor of translators and/or interpreters, ... I will not require translators or interpreters to do unpaid work for the prospect of a paid assignment.
  • [2] Iranian Translators Cyber Association's Code of Ethics and Professional Practice repeats the above: As an employer or contractor of translators and/or interpreters, I will not require translators or interpreters to do unpaid work for the prospect of a paid assignment.

Test translations as qualification tools

  • The ultimate goal of an agency's sourcing efforts should be the assembly of a pool of reliable and trusted translators engaged on a long-term business relationship. This is a lot wiser in the long term than to give translations to the next best translator that happens by.
  • Building this kind of network is a gradual process that can't be earned in one shot. This might be a matter of personal style, but it should certainly involve a trial of some sorts (handing out a small job first; asking for a test translation which might be paid or not, evaluating samples of previous work, etc.).
  • Leaving the payment issue aside, test translations provide a simple go-no go evaluation at the start of the relationship, another element of the "first impression" that defines if a relationship is started or not.
  • Test translations offer outsourcers the advantage of providing several candidates with a same source text narrowly tuned to the project field of incumbency, to allow for an objective comparison of abilities. Of course this also requires a very competent professional to perform the evaluation.
  • This is not incompatible with the concept of building mutual trust by the cumulative experience of several well done and well paid, increasingly larger jobs. But test translations should be a helpful tool in the preliminary filtering to define who will be asked to do that first, non-critical paid job.
    • In these cases it is not unusual to have a first filtering of applicants by evaluation of CVs, credentials, references and samples, and sending test translations to the candidates who passed this first filter to further focus the selection on the best candidates.
    • This progressive approach makes good business sense, as reading and qualifying CVS from a large batch of translators is less cumbersome and expensive than requesting, getting and evaluating test translations from all of them. It is better to leave test translations as a final element to help select the best candidates from the last selection stage.
  • Of course a translator can deliver an outstanding test translation and then prove unreliable, deliver late or otherwise fail to produce the expected quality. Test translations will not prevent this sort of problems from happening, but they can contribute to mitigate the risk to manageable levels.


What defines a "good" test translation?

  • The focus of the test translation is critical. Generalized test are of limited value, but the translation of a highly focused technical text may provide a reasonable indicator of the service provider's knowledge of the subject.
  • Size is very important. there is a general consent that free test translations should not be longer than 200 to 300 words.
    • In the case of literary work test translations tend to be longer (but they may be paid), ad in this case writing style is very important, and this is difficult to detect in only a couple of paragraphs.
  • To make good use of the translation tests received, the agency needs them to be evaluated by a proficient proofreader. Failing to provide quality at this point would invalidate the whole exercise, waisting the translators' time without any significant risk mitigation.
  • Providing feedback to the translators who did the test is a frequently forgotten act of fairness that can compensate the translators for the free time they dedicated to the test, even in the case of failure. Besides, for those who will work for the agency, it helps improve quality and contributes to team building.
  • Sometimes the need for a test translation is a requirement of the final customer, who may even reserve the right to evaluate them with some internal proofreader. In these cases, of course, tha agency may have little control over the test translation process.


Test translations and quality standards

  • Some instances have been reported of outsourcers claiming that they have to request test translations to be compliant with their ISO quality certification. Are test translations (especially unpaid ones) a part of the requirements of the quality standards on translation?
  • No quality standard specifies that test translations are a requirement for evaluating the quality of translators.
  • The ISO 9001:2000 standard is a framework for an organization to prove that:
    • you have a certain set of policies and procedures in place
    • said policies and procedures are repeatable, and
    • repeatability of said policies and procedures can be verified since they are documented.
  • The content of the policies and procedures is defined by each organization. In the case of a translation agency, they may have stated in its own ISO 9001:2000 quality manual that they have a specific process for evaluating the quality of their translation providers (and this might apply to in-house staff as well as outsourcers) which is in the form of a translation test.
  • In this case, the ISO certified agency must request translation tests for each and every provider. And when they are audited yearly, the auditor can come in and pick any project in the project directory, and one of the points would be the translators and revisers, and how they were selected. There would need to documented proof that they took the test, and the scores, and all supporting evidence around that process.
  • This is especially important for ISO 9001:2000 because the management of suppliers is one of the important parts of that standard, as compared with previous versions and other related standards. Yet in this case nothing binds the company to administering a translation test except their statement in the quality manual and the quality processes that this is the only way that the selection process can be done.
  • Now regarding the payment or not of the test translations, this would be probably a business decision of the agency, not a requirement stated in their certified procedures. Paying and not paying for the test is most probably outside of the scope of ISO certification.
  • The EN 15038:2006 Translation Services standard stipulates in the Human Resource section that there must be a documented procedure in place for selecting people who participate in translation projects and they they they necessary skills and qualifications.
    • There are several specific requirements with regard to professional competency of translators (and reviewers) and there are several subareas of competency which must be met.
    • Again, there is no specific requirement to perform test translation. On the other hand, among the different ways to check the competency, one of the easiest way for a translation agency to document a selection procedure is to administer a translation test.


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