If you need to build your house, are you going to ask the builder to build you a free garage first? Shouldn’t you better look at previous houses he has built?
The issue of translation tests given to translators as a means to assess their skills has been long debated. However, I am going to talk about them from my perspective both as a translator and agency owner and why we don’t believe in them.
First of all, I must admit that when I was working as a translator, I was lucky enough not to have been asked too many times to do free translation tests. It actually happened only once (twice, if I count the time when I was asked to come up with a detailed analysis of someone else’s translation – see below). Secondly, we have never used them in our company (nor do we intend to) for the reasons I am going to explain below. Last but not least, there are some issues I am going to raise and would love to hear your opinions about them.
The first and only time I agreed to complete a free translation test, it was close to 600 words (not very long, though most tests do not or should not be over 300 words) and consisted of a witness statement. I am not going to disclose the name of the agency that sent it to me (it is well known). What disappointed me was the fact that, although they had said full feedback would be provided after independent evaluation, have not heard anything from them. Not even a ‘Thank you’ email for sending the translation. More than a year later, they started emailing and calling me about interpreting assignments which I had to turn down due to their refusal to pay decent rates and reimburse travel expenses (but that’s a different story).
Now, you may say I was naïve to accept yet another free task, but I had been working for the respective agency (not the same as above) for quite a while, so I thought a little free service would be OK. At least they did thank me for sending the report. What I found weird however was that I was asked to analyse a translation from my mother tongue (Romanian) into English and was promised that if they win the tender they were applying for and for which they needed the analysis, I would be their first choice for this language combination. I am aware that there may not be many native English speakers who can translate from Romanian, but it still struck me as ‘unusual’. I still don’t know what the result of the tender was, although they had promised to let me know.
As part of our recruitment process, we ask our translators and interpreters to provide the details of two people they have carried out translation or interpreting work for. This way, we can check the quality of previous work. Quite a few candidates have asked whether they should expect a translation test and some of them were keen on taking one. While we appreciate their enthusiasm, I am afraid some others may take advantage of them, as I will explain later on in this article.
If you agree, disagree or would like to share your opinion and experience, please do so in a comment below.
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