Free Test Translation: a Great Opportunity or an Inevitable Evil?

by Nov 12, 2019Food for thought0 comments

Translation communities take a keen interest in similar topics and issues. One of these topics — free test translation — provokes vigorous debates over and over again. Let’s take a look at this problem from different perspectives, elaborate on the pros and cons of free test translation and find out what translators themselves think about it.

Regardless of your experience in the field of translation, you have definitely received such a request from a client one day or another:

Will you perform a test translation for free?

Novice translators, for the most part, are ready to take on almost any job to gain experience and enhance their portfolio. Therefore, they enthusiastically perform free test translations.

At the beginning of my career, I had not shied away from such tests, because my resume was impressively short, but also I wanted to get a well-paid translation job.

Mature representatives of our profession are often skeptical about free test translations, although there are some ‘volunteers’ among them as well.

Sooner or later you realize that test translation is not the only way to prove your knowledge and skills. In the course of work, you obtain a number of certificates, a portfolio of thematic projects completed for big clients, valuable feedback from satisfied clients or recommendations of employers.

But even with all these regalia and credentials, requests for test translations continue to arrive.

This is because clients want to receive guaranteed quality services and weed out unreliable contractors using all available methods to verify services provides, i.e. translators.

Although, from the point of view a translation agency owner, I can say with confidence that even a perfect test translation does not ensure that a translator will continue to provide quality services in the course of subsequent work. We’ll talk about this later.

Now let’s try to answer the question:

When should I perform a test translation for free?

If we consider the test translation as a way to show and confirm your skills, then, based on my personal experience, I can say that you should perform such work in the following cases:

  • You just graduated from a university or you are at the very beginning of your career path, your resume is almost empty, there are no recommendations from employers, and you really want to work as a translator.
  • A very lucrative, profitable project has appeared on the horizon and you know that there are many competitors. Moreover, the client’s requirements regarding the screening process are rather tough and include a test translation among other things.

In all other cases, it is worth thinking about: Will the time spent on the test translation really pay off?

When you have difficulties in finding clients even with a backpack of experience and all kinds of credentials, then, of course, performing a test translation can help you get the desired project.

But before you agree to perform a free test translation, you should protect yourself from unreliable clients.

If clients check translators, why don’t we check them in return?

Due diligence on a potential client

You can find many examples on the web when clients tried to cheat and get a translation for free. As a rule, the following scheme is used: a client posts a translation request on a web portal; the text is divided into pieces, which are sent to different translators as a free test, then the pieces are glued together and used as the final product.

Naturally, the quality of the final text is out of the question, but such a fraudulent method is still popular among shell companies and other ‘clients’ who have no idea about translation.

Do not take the bait and learn how to save your time!

Follow these simple instructions:

  • Do not undertake to perform a test translation exceeding one page (250 words).
  • If possible, choose a segment for translation from the provided material.
  • It is also advisable to search for information about the clients on the Internet.

You can find translation company ratings at Blueboard. The text of the reviews is available only for paid members, but the overall score is displayed for all visitors. If the translation agency rating is far below 4, then you should think twice before working with such a company.

In addition, if you can not find information on specialized resources, you can try and search for information about the company on Google. As a rule, serious companies have websites and/or social media pages.

At worst, the name of the company can be found in the official state registers.

Sometimes you can also find customer reviews about a company on Google.

If there are no results at all, this is a bad sign. The lack of information about the company on the web in most cases becomes a good reason to refuse a free test translation.

Should test translations be free?

Imagine a situation: you come to a lawyer or dentist, web developer or designer and ask to provide a service on trial for free, e.g.:

  • Prepare a draft contract;
  • Fill a tooth;
  • Create a landing page or a logo for free.

If you like the result, you will pay for the work and all the following orders will be assigned to this company (if you have any orders at all).

I bet your proposal is unlikely to be of any interest to a specialist. So why do translators agree to do the work, even a small one, for free?

What prevents you as a professional translator from setting a minimum charge for a test translation? Especially if the test translation is small, a serious client is able to pay for one-page translation. Otherwise, this is not a serious client.

Why test translation is an ineffective practice?

First, if you take test translations seriously, even the translation of one page can take quite some time. After all, you want to put our best foot forward.

Secondly, for a really high-quality translation, regardless of your subject matter experience, it is vital to study the context, get acquainted with all the materials, understand the author’s intention, and ‘feel’ the text.

Otherwise, the test translation will be only a faded copy of the original.

Thirdly, the human factor cannot be excluded. Considering test translation from the point of view of a client, even if I receive really good test results, I cannot be sure that translators did the work on their own, and that tomorrow, when I give them a real job, they do not disappear or fail the project because of a force majeure.

In general, a perfect test translation can not serve as a reliable guarantee of the quality of further work.

If the test translation is assigned by an agency, the situation can be even more complicated. Unfortunately, the contract details are rarely shared with translators.

It may turn out that the contract with the end client has not yet been concluded, and the agency just needs to prove its efficiency and quality of work to win the deal.

Perhaps your translation is the best, but the agency fails to agree on the rates with the end client and you simply waste your time for a test.

In my office, I try to place test translations only when the contract has already been concluded. Otherwise, I give the fullest possible information about the nature of such a test translation and pay for test translations.

If it is necessary to perform a test before the conclusion of the contract, we usually do that in-house, without the involvement of third parties.

But not all companies work that way.

As you have already seen, there are a lot of pitfalls when performing free test translations. You have to consider a lot of variables, and it is impossible to accurately predict the result, even if you are 100% sure of the quality of your work.

Survey results

Let’s see what translators themselves think about performing free test translations.

I recently conducted a survey in several groups for translators. The sample size was 326 people.

  • I can agree on test translation depending on the project conditions and reputation of the client 40.7% 40.7%
  • Free test translation is a standard practice. I perform free tests frequently to get the job 29.1% 29.1%
  • I do a free test up to 250 words 15.9% 15.9%
  • Unpaid tests are unacceptable (it’s a fraud), I never agree on that! 6.4% 6.4%
  • I have a portfolio to share with clients/I offer free test translation on my own 1.2% 1.2%

I hope that this post can help you make the right choice next time when you are asked to do a free test translation.

Wishing you to get more well-paying clients and achieve success in your freelance work!


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