Sample Translations and Best Practices
Most professional translators, such as myself, have decided to stop providing sample translation to prospective clients, because they do not work.
When I encounter newcomers to the translation industry, whether in the form of small businesses or solo freelancers, it’s often amazing to me the sheer number of misconceptions they carry with them. Some of these are understandable, as it takes a few years of seasoning to get the lay of the land in reality. One such understandable – but regrettable – misconception is the need for and usefulness of sample translations.
I’ll just be blunt: I don’t do sample translations any more, not for any client. I have plenty of reasons for this decision, and I will admit that it’s been a little difficult to explain it to some of my translation services clients, who naturally enough view sample translations as an ideal and perfectly reasonable way to judge whether I have the skills to do their work properly. But my reasons for rejecting samples, while perhaps not obvious, are very compelling to translation professionals.
First and foremost, while my clients don’t see any need to pay me for a sample and view it as part of my investment in chasing the work, samples cost me a fair amount in time (that I’m not paid for) and other resources. For this reason alone, I feel justified in stopping the practice of providing samples – because if I did samples for everyone who requested them I’d soon be broke.
The other reason I’ve come to reject samples is the fact that they don’t achieve the goal they were devised for. You simply cannot tell if I have the skills and experience to do your translation work from a sample, because a sample has several deficits that cannot be gotten around:
- Brevity: A thousand words is not enough work for you to judge whether I am good at my job. Any translator at any skill level can probably create a 1,000 word translation at high levels of quality by applying themselves.
- Lack of Integration: Modern translation involves a lot of back and forth between client and provider – questions that build up a body of knowledge about an ongoing project, but with a sample I’m supposed to simply turn it around without any of this process.
- No Translation Kit: When I take on a real project, I’m normally provided a lot of resources to help me dig in and learn about the subject and the expectations. With a sample, providing those kinds of resources for a thousand words would be ridiculous – but again, that just makes the sample less useful for testing purposes.
Of course, there is also the problem you sometimes encounter where companies get free translation work by demanding constant samples of live material from prospective translators. This isn’t common, but it has been known to happen, and is something else that has made me think more than twice about providing samples. If I thought samples helped either party I’d be willing to do them – but they do not.
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