Why do translation agencies require translation tests free of charge?

Published by: jankapoun, dated: February 12, 2021

I have never really understood this concept. So, an agency requires you to do a translation test. They usually give you a couple of days, you can do it at home, you can use whatever resources you need…. including a more experienced translator who could actually do the translation for you. So…. what purpose does such test translation serve?

I have been thinking about this for a while. And I think there are basically 3 answers:

1) The translation agency people are just too stupid to realize this.

2) The translation agency people think translators are too stupid not to take any advantage of such an option.

3) The translation agency people think translators are honest and would do the translation tests themselves.

I think the option 3) is the most probable. But then, this gives me some additional thoughts: Why do the translation agencies actually bother with such tests?

Imagine, you are an agency. Wouldn’t the reasonable approach be this?: You start working with a translator, you order some 1000-2000 words just for starters. You let your reviewer review his/her translation… and based on the results, you deside to continue in this cooperation, or not.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case with most of the agencies. They just require you to do a translation test free of charge.

Would you have the guts?

Well, imagine this: For instance me – I am a pretty seasoned translator with some 13 years of experience. So, a typical translation test of some 300 words would take me some 30-60 minutes to complete. Because yes, I do provide some extra attention to translation tests, as I want to make sure their quality is more than acceptable.

But here it comes: Such a test typically takes some 30-60 minutes. When recalculated to money I could make if this was a standard paid job, this would be more than equal to a very good dinner at a fine restaurant here in the Czech Republic including wine, desert and coffee.

And here is the question: Would you have the guts to go to such a restaurant and ask for a “test” dinner free of charge? I would really love to see the face of the waiter…. and then the bruise on your butt, when they kick you out.

We translators are a weak kind

So, why do translators provide translation tests free of charge? I have also given this some thought and I honestly think that’s because we are mostly too weak, we just don’t have the guts to say: “You can most kindly pay for this lovely test… or you can just p*ss off”.

Well, of course, this depends on your seniority. If you are a rookie, you will most probably happily take whatever test they throw on you… in order to just land whatever job they might have.

But when you grow more experienced, translation tests just become a pain in the a*s. It just becomes really tedious to deal with an agency idiot who just cannot see that your 10+ years of membership on Proz/TC are just pretty much a guarantee that you are probably not a total loser in this industry.

The Year of the Communist Flue

But, well, yes, 2020 was the year of the communist flue so there only were so many translation jobs…. and I was nervous enough to have recently taken 2 translation tests. Both of them went well, no major issues… but they said they had selected someone else, because “your test was quite good, but the other person was a bit more fluent”. Well, f*ck it.

Who will guard the guards?

And this brings me to yet another topic. Who does actually evaluate such translation tests?

Is it a fellow translator? Probably someone they have selected on a “best-price” basis? Or is this the end customer themselves who know something about their business, but they know an absolute sh*t about the grammar, ortography and style of their own language?

Because I have already seen it in the styleguides: The end customer defines some rules that actually go against our Czech grammar/style, but they would still insist they want it this way. So, are they actually evaluating my test translation against their flaw-infested styleguides?

Honestly, I don’t know. At times, this can be a really bizarr industry niche.

The true purpose of translation tests

So, in the end, I think there are basically just 2 reasonable uses for translation tests:

1) you are looking for an absolute beginner to cut the costs. You want to test the absolute beginners to see if they have got actually something that you could still somehow use and sell to your end customer…. or potentially build on in the future when you provide some training to your translators to bring them to a more professional level of expertise.

2) you are a son of a b*tch and you want to actually get a translation free of charge to sell it to your end-client as a service. Well, in such a case, your carma will get you pretty soon.

My personal attitude

But personally, to me, a translation test required free of charge is a big NO NO. Sorry guys, I have made my share of money, I have my steady customers…. and if I can get 1-2 new customers every year from my Proz/TC/ATA/webpage… subscription, that’s pretty much OK for me.

So, if you ask me for a test translation free of charge… you can just most kindly pay for it …. or you can just f*ck off.


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