Why do some translation agencies have to send obligatory translation tests to translators to determine whether these translators should be included in the translation agency’s stable of “linguists” (a word that needs to be further analyzed in another post with respect to how it is currently used by translation agencies), based on the result of an evaluation of the test?
And why is it that other translation agencies don’t need to send tests?
I am also a translation agency, sort of, anyway, since I also send work to other translators, usually in languages that I don’t translate myself. But I don’t need to bother prospective additions to my stable of major talents with no stinkin’ translation tests.
There are two main reasons why I have never done such a thing and never will.
1. As a humanist, I believe that it is wrong … more than just wrong …. evil, to force people to work for free. To stop this evil, a long and bloody war was fought in the United States of America between 1861 and 1865 in which hundreds of thousands of people died and millions more were injured.
And, incidentally, the pro-slavery camp lost.
2. Even if I were just another prospective slave owner who had the misfortune of being born in the wrong century, and there are still quite a few of them among us in any country, the fact is that I am able to evaluate on my own a prospective translator without forcing said translator to labor for free on a stupid translation test just to please me.
Whether a translation agency is able to determine the suitability of a translator for a certain type of work in a certain language without needing to ask for a free test translation in fact tells you whether the people working in the agency know what they are doing, or whether they are generally clueless about the product and the service that they are selling, called translation. (Of course, I have nothing against paid translation tests, and whenever I am asked to do a test, my response is that I will be happy to do it at my usual rate.)
I can usually tell whether a translator is worth trying out on a real job, risky though it may be on occasion, or whether he or she is likely to be a fake, by simply looking at the cover letter and the description of the education and experience of the translator. Because I can read several languages, all I have to do then is to ask for a sample of a previous translation to evaluate that sample. Even if it is a language that I don’t know myself, I can usually understand enough of the source text to be able to match it with the English translation because I often know a related language.
For example, I can match Chinese text with the English text and query Chinese technical terms and their equivalents in the English translation on the Internet because I translate Japanese, I can do the same in Dutch because I translate German, in Italian because I translate French, etc. And since I have been translating patents for almost 30 years, I can generally tell whether a prospective patent translator is likely to have an affinity for this particular field even before I send him or her a job.
It takes one to know one.
I can also proofread the patent translation quite competently …. because that is what I have been doing for almost three decades.
But poor coordinators working in translation agencies that claim to “specialize” in translation from and into every language and in every field generally have absolutely no idea whether the translation that they received from a new translator is any good. That is why they try to hedge their bets by asking every new prospective translator to take a test first. The problem is, the coordinators who are evaluating these tests are not qualified to evaluate the test because they generally don’t know the language from or into which the texts are translated, and often don’t understand the subject either.
If the test translation is close to whatever it is that it will be compared to by a coordinator, it must be a good translation. If it is not that close, it must be a bad translation.
But if the translations that the coordinators are relying on are problematic, the coordinators will have no idea about the problems, and it could be impossible and often counterproductive to try to explain to them where the problems are. In any case, they got the sample from their boss and their boss makes no mistakes.
It is also of course quite possible that if your translation is better than whatever it is that the coordinator is using, your translation will be deemed faulty, although it is the other way round.
There are some coordinators who may not know the language in question, but because they are very intelligent and have a lot of experience, they can instinctively tell a good translator from a bad even without having to rely on their knowledge of foreign languages.
Some people are smart, and they pick up things that they need to know about translating, even though they may be handicapped by being monolingual, by substituting other abilities that they may have, the way blind people use their superior sense of hearing and smell.
But smart people usually do not stay with corporate translation agencies because …. they always pay very little to the people who do the actual work, which would be the translators and the coordinators. If they like their job and are good at it, they usually leave after a while and start their own small business.
So there you have it. If you don’t mind being a slave who has no choice but to work for incompetent people, by all means, do the test every time you are asked for one.
But if you value your work and your time, my advice would be to offer a sample of your work instead.
Your offer may be rejected, but the thing is, if a translation agency is not even competent enough to handle a sample of your work, do you really want to work for them?