Guest post: Test translations

Aaaand we’re finally back with our guest posts! 😀 Who missed them? I did! But let’s look on the bright side, at least you had a two-week vacation from us. lol

Hope you like today’s guest, Olga Arakelyan, from Russia.

Welcome, Olga!


Are test translations always evil? What can they teach startup translators?

Those who remember my story probably know that when I came into the freelance world, I already had some experience in interpreting and in translation. But I had mainly done interpreting work before. Now, as you know, interpreting and translation are very different from each other, requiring a totally different set of skills. Yes, I have a good memory, so I don’t have a problem remembering how I translated this or that term and thus maintaining consistency of my translations even without using CAT tools. But consistency is definitely not the only challenging task in translation as even the smallest details are important here.

That’s what I didn’t know when I started working as a translator. Now when I remember my first tests (I was pretty confident about my skills, so I sent out CVs and sample translations everywhere) the only thing I feel is shame… Good thing I realized that my offers were turned down by companies for a reason. So I started learning from experienced colleagues, subscribed to their blogs, studied translation samples shared by other translators on the Internet etc. All of this helped me to become a better professional, so now I don’t have a problem with clients turning down my offers because of bad test translations. Although in our profession we must never stop growing. There is always place for more growth and more professional development.

Why am I sharing all this? Here’s why. Throughout my freelance career I read tons of articles about test translations being evil. Translators say that after they send their work to an agency or a direct client they never hear back from them.

Note: this article is not about experienced colleagues whose translations are so good that they are close to impeccable. By the way, those colleagues usually get pretty fast responses to their messages, and they aren’t asked to do a test (or those requests are rare). I am writing for startup translators who don’t understand why they are being ignored after they send their work having done their best. I assure you that it doesn’t necessarily happen because agencies or companies are evil. Perhaps my personal experience will help you to look at the process from a different perspective.

I have been working as a staff editor in a boutique agency for a few months now. And there was a period when we had so much work from our regular clients that we had to look for new translators. And here’s what happened when we asked freelancers to do a test for us.

We got a lot of responses. The tests went straight to my inbox as I was supposed to assess them. At first I responded promptly to all emails. But then as the stream of messages grew, I realized I would need a secretary in order to reply to all letters. After all, I also had to do my regular work. That was the first time I remembered my disappointment as a startup freelance translator when I got no immediate response from agencies. It can happen not because people working in those agencies are bad and don’t care about you. Maybe they are just very busy, sleeping no more than 4 hours a day trying to do their regular job, plus checking the tests. They are thankful for your message and for your test, and they will read and assess it by all means. But they have so much work that they can’t possibly reply to everybody.

But that’s not all. Checking those test translations turned to be a good patience lesson. Actually, the mistakes that I saw over and over again in tests written by different people motivated me to write this post. Here are a few tips from me as an editor and reviewer. I hope they will help my startup colleagues to get positive replies more often.

  1. Don’t forget to not just check your translations by yourself, manually, but also by means of special programs. At least by Microsoft Word spellchecker, or by any other tools that you have. It’s surprising how many beginning translators don’t do that, totally relying on themselves.
  2. If you do not use CAT-tools it’s ok! But if you chose to overwrite the source text with the translation, please don’t forget to delete the source text. It’s weird to read sentences beginning with the first letters of the original text.
  3. After you have finished your test and have proofread everything, the best thing you can do is leave your desk at least for a few minutes in order to have a cup of tea or go for a walk. When you come back to the same text with a fresh mind you will notice some more things that need to be corrected. Besides, it will help you to notice typos that Microsoft Word spellchecker missed.
  4. Please don’t stop at the “Ah, they will understand me anyway” level of tranlsation. Edit your work until there’s nothing or almost nothing you don’t like about it.

So those are some of my thoughts based on a few (dozens of) tests by startup translators.

However, it wouldn’t be fair to stop here. I have to mention scammers who also love test translations. You know why? Because they think a test is a perfect way to get professional services for free. So here are my tips that will (hopefully) help you stay safe.

  1. Always google your prospective direct client or translation agency and see what other people say about them.
  2. The test shouldn’t be very big. For instance, I don’t do test bigger than 250 words. There’s obviously something wrong with a test translation several pages long.
  3. Urgency is another red flag. If a test is needed solely for the purpose of assessing your skills, then why is it supposed to be done urgently? I would definitely pay attention to it. Although, sometimes companies search for translators for a specific project and they need your test before the project starts. For those clients it’s important to get your test on time, so they do set deadlines. But in those cases I normally receive some kind of an explanation why the test is supposed to be ready by a specific date.
  4. A test that is obviously a part of a bigger file looks the most suspicious. I received those tests several times in my career and every time it turned out to be a scam. People give different pieces of text to several translators hoping that each translator will do their “test”, and in the end they will get the whole text done for free! So we do need to be careful and stay away from all suspicious offers.

So be careful and I wish you good luck in your freelance translation! By the way, there is a mistake in the text. Have you noticed it?

Thanks a lot for your kind contribution to our blog, Olga! It was a real pleasure to host you here, after you having hosted me so kindly on your blog. 🙂

Any comments?

About the author
Olga_profile-pic_2Olga Arakelyan is a professional freelance translator and a certified ESL teacher. She translates from English and German into Russian and specializes mainly in marketing, music, tourism, and education. Olga recently left the freelance world and is now managing Translators’ Training Courses at Alba Longa translation company, Saint Petersburg, Russia. You can find her on Twitter @Olenkaarakelyan, visit her English blog or, if you prefer reading in Russian, she’d be happy to see you in her Russian blog.

7 thoughts on “Guest post: Test translations

  1. Excellent points, Olga! I have too written a post on translation tests –

    I for one don’t believe in translation tests as part of the recruitment process, unless it is a very specialised agency (like the one you work for) or it’s for a specific project. An agency working with various languages and covering various sectors will not be able to assess all candidates by means of translation tests.

    Regarding specific projects, we have done that. However, I must say we paid the translators for the test (although the tests were free for the clients).


    • Hi Alina! Thank you for sharing your insight. Test translations are, no doubt, a very controversial issue. But for beginning translators, I think, it’s one of very few ways they can really show their skills, besides sending samples of their work (if they have them). Sure enough, there are agencies which send those mass emails about “expanding their data base” and many other ways people misuse test translations, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good tool in wise hands. 😉


      • Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Alina!

        I think that, at the end, the translator is the one who should decide and assess how they are going to deal with test translations. I, for example, first of all, try to talk about rates, payment method and so on before actually taking the test. Because sometimes, especially if it’s an agency, they pay less than we charge, so what’s the point in losing my precious time to take the rest, right?


  2. I don’t believe in test translations. If you want to evaluate a translator, give them a small paid project to start with, to see how they work in real conditions, and progressively increase the volume while keeping an eye on quality.

    When you work on a test translation, you know that you are being evaluated. Some translators will do their best on test translations and then be lazy with actual jobs. Or they may ask someone more talented to do the test for them. How can one know? Having worked in an agency, I can tell there are lots of dishonest people out there (and I’m not talking about scammers).

    Another piece of advice for startup translators: only accept test translations if there seems to be an actual job down the road or if the agency’s specializations are close to yours. Too many agencies send tests during the registration process just for the sake of it, even if they never get jobs for your language pair or specialization.


    • Hi, Anthony!

      First of all, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment! 🙂

      You’re right. However, if someone is dishonest with tests, they will be dishonest in regular translations as well.

      As to your advice, I agree with you. I think the translator should be very careful instead of simply accepting all test translations potential clients send. However, I think that, with time and experience, we learn to differentiate real opportunities from those mass emails.

      Please feel free to visit us again and comment more often. Enjoy your Thursday!


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