Translation Tests and Tantrums

As most translators know, some translation agencies include a translation test in their recruitment process. This can be free or paid at a full or reduced rate. A successful outcome will get the freelancer in the agency’s database. At least in theory, this will get both parties involved in collaboration. Now, some translators refuse to take these tests for various reasons. Some believe they have enough experience and client feedback on their website or LinkedIn profile that speaks for itself. Some don’t want to waste precious time with work that can easily be useless. Does the agency already have work waiting for you or they will just add you to a never-ending database? If the test is free then that is a valid reason not to do it. Also, who is going to review your translation if you decide to take the test? This is very important. Is the reviewer more experienced, more knowledgeable, more skilful than or as skilful as you are? Is he/she professional? If the answer to all of these questions is a sound yes, then that is great. Give it a go!

The thing is, you won’t know until you receive the feedback and your translation reviewed. Before that you can only trust that the agency will find the best person for the job. That person can be a freelance translator just like you who happens to be working for the agency for some time. It can be an in-house staff member or just anyone on their database available and willing to do the job.

But what happens if the reviewer who has been chosen is not professional?

I mean, this person knows they will be assessing a colleague’s work. And it is not just some colleague. It is a fellow freelance translator working with the same language pair as them. What is on their mind while going through the translation test? Hopefully they will give their best and provide for a fair assessment. But that’s not always the case. They can easily feel threatened. “If I can’t find errors and make a lot of corrections, PMs/VMs might think this person is better than me. I might lose work.”
Reviewers of translation tests know they are expected to make corrections if needed and definitely report back on quality. If you get a low quality test assessment it will probably be very straightforward. But if there is some serious top quality there, what does the reviewer tell the agency? The truth? Or do they make some preferential changes just for the sake of it?


I once received feedback on a translation test piece I did for an agency and was surprised by what I read. The reviewer had marked as spelling errors words that I had written in conformity with the new spelling agreement. This person claimed those words do not exist at all in European Portuguese! To those who are not familiar with the Portuguese language orthographic agreement please read about it here. There are quite a few Portuguese translators that hate the spelling agreement and some of them even refuse to use it in their work for clients. I personally understand that one can have difficulty accepting new spellings for words in our mother tongue. If you have learned to write “acção” for action and, at a certain point in your adult life you’re told to write “ação” instead, it will feel odd to say the least. The thing is, the new spelling agreement has been implemented and is here to stay. Like it or not, agree with the changes or not, accept that you can’t make it go away.

If you are incapable of doing a good and honest job, decline it. If you are afraid you might lose on work from that client, improve your skills. Deliver great work.

Never ever lie to the client. Never ever try to penalize a colleague due to your own hidden agenda. Also, work on your marketing so that companies learn about you (for the right reasons). Above all, whatever you choose to do… Be Honest. Be Professional. Be True.
Have you ever had a similar experience? And have you ever felt wronged due by a reviewer? I would love to hear from you in the comments section.

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