Test translation are a frequent subject of controversy in the translation industry.
A test translation is where a potential client (which can be a direct client or a translation agency) requests that a translator completes a translation for free, prior to beginning work with them. These audition translations are a frequent subject of controversy in the translation industry.
Translators are concerned, and wonder whether –
- They should offer the client samples of their work instead;
- They should complete free translations at all;
- Perhaps a limit should be set on the word count of these translations; and
- If they don’t complete these test translations, will the client be reluctant to use them?
We understand that clients obviously prefer to employ highly skilled translators, and one way of achieving this is to ask a translator to take a test that previous translators have taken in order to compare the translation work of the new translator with that of trusted and established translators.
Protecting Translators against Unscrupulous Clients
There have been cases where translators have proof, or in some cases simply suspect, that unscrupulous clients have used these ‘audition’ translations as a way of getting free translation work, so, of course, this knowledge simply adds to the air of distrust which surrounds these tests. So, the common question asked by translators regarding these test translations is: ‘Should I take unpaid translation tests?’
This question by itself doesn’t provide sufficient information to allow for a reliable answer because the answer will depend on various factors –
- Who is the client?
- How long is this unpaid translation test?
- Am I trying out for a specific project?
- And probably the most important question of all: ‘How much does the translator want or need the work being offered?’
All of the above are important points a translator should consider when determining whether the time invested in taking an unpaid test translation is worth it.
ATA Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices
It’s interesting to note that in the ATA Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices, Item D, regarding Employers or Contractors of Translators and/or Interpreters, it states that: ‘I will not require translators or interpreters to do unpaid work for the prospect of a paid assignment.’ This is a fairly broad statement and there’s probably some room for interpretation here, such as: What constitutes a test translation? Are these tests actually unpaid work, or something else?
It does seem, though, that this clause is taking a stance against unpaid translation tests - certainly when they’re given by translation companies who are also ATA members.
When it comes to translation companies, the alternative to these unpaid tests - such as small paid assignments or even paid tests - are certainly riskier and obviously more expensive; that is unless they have previously vetted the translator’s experience and background prior to administering the test.