There's been a lot of discussion of this
subject recently in the sci.lang.translation
newsgroup and Payment Practices mailing
The questions on people's minds appear
Question 1: Are agencies giving
out parts of a large job disguised as
a test to many different translators in
the hope of getting it translated for
Short answer 1: Not unless they're
stupid AND crazy.
Question 2: Why haven't I had any
work yet - I sent the test back 3 months
Short answer 2: Because either
they haven't had anything in your subject
and language combination yet or maybe
you're not their first choice translator.
No agency is likely to try to split up
a job, disguised as a test, among many
translators. It would be suicidal. Half
of all the tests I send out never come
back! I guess the reason for this is that
people either find them too hard or get
another paid job at the same time. Then
when they find my test in the bottom of
their pile 2 months later they think "well
even if I do it now what's he going to
think of me if I send it back this late?"
So it gets thrown away. I've done this
myself many times when working as a freelancer
for other agencies.
On top of this if you split up a job
between many people the quality suffers
because everyone has their own individual
style and choice of vocabulary. It would
be more expensive to rework everyone's
"test" into a usable translation
than it would be to pay proper rates for
it to begin with. Any agency who tries
to get away with not reworking the text
would not last long.
Many agencies have no idea what kind
of work is coming through the door tomorrow,
let alone next week or next month. Since
they can't control what and when they
like to cover all possibilities by having
several translators available for each
language combination and specialist subject.
In practice they will usually have a first
choice person who they've developed a
relationship with over a period of time.
This person will usually be first to be
offered everything in their language combination
because they are trusted.
It does happen that translators go on
holiday or have a busy period. So if the
agencies only had one person for a given
language combination they would lose money
if that person is not available when an
assignment comes in. It may be that you
have been tested for the number 2, 3 or
4 position (or more if it's a large agency).
If this is the case you might have to
wait until number 1 goes on holiday or
turns down an assignment before you have
a chance. It will happen eventually though
and when it does you must make sure you
do a superb job. Then maybe they will...
...remember you first next time.
Every summer (as a freelancer) I pick
up a few new clients when other translators
are on holiday - they usually tell you
"the person we usually use is on
holiday are you available?" This
is a fantastic opportunity! I make a point
of giving them extra special attention
and they nearly always stay with me instead
of going back to their other translator(s)
because I keep them happy.
My opinion on tests is that some agencies
really do need them to avoid giving work
to translators who simply aren't good
enough. I suggest that you adopt some
or all of the following which will give
you some protection:
a) Don't do more than you feel
comfortable with. A lot of people have
suggested a limit of 200 or 300 words.
I think you have to be a bit flexible
rather than set a specific limit. 2000
words is definitely excessive. If it "feels"
right and you really think there might
be a large job in the pipeline, and you're
not busy at the moment, what have you
got to lose if you do 500, 700 or 1000
words? We're all in business and business
involves balancing risk against reward.
But do trust your instinctive "gut
feeling". When I go against my instincts
I usually regret it. If you don't like
the people you're dealing with or it doesn't
"feel" right it's your instincts
telling you to beware. Ignore them at
b) Don't prioritise a test above
paid work even if the customer is saying
it could lead to a huge job - I'm sure
we've all heard that one a hundred times!
Service your existing customers first
- then you're more likely to keep them!
c) Try to avoid doing a test if
it is required by a certain deadline,
or at least tell them that you can't guarantee
it by a certain deadline because you've
got a lot of work on at the moment. This
will flush out those who are trying to
get a small job done for free. If the
agency needs to test you under pressure
and you are busy you could always arrange
a date in the near future for them to
send you a short test at a convenient
d) Some people advocate ending
a test mid-sentence and this would be
OK as long as you explain in a non-accusing
way - before you do the test:
"it's my policy to end tests mid-sentence
because I've been ripped off several times
in the past"
If you don't tell them first they might
just think you are careless and then you're
wasting your time even bothering to do
the test. Also if they don't like it you
know there could be something "fishy"
I don't think I would do this myself
but I don't think I'd really object if
a potential translator felt safer by doing
e) A general translation test
that an agency might send you when you
first apply is usually not needed back
by a certain time. Tests for particular
jobs are obviously required fairly quickly
but you can ask to have the evaluation
back equally quickly. You are also more
likely to be given these kinds of tests
by clients you already know and trust.
f) You could always offer to send
the names of a few client references or
samples of previously completed work instead
of a test. A lot of good agencies will
like this approach because it may mean
they can call someone they have heard
of and find out you are a good translator
in this subject and language combination
- without having to spend money on testing
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