What makes a good agency?

This post was originally published in the July-August 2009 edition of the ITI Bulletin. It is reposted with permission from the author.

Herbert Eppel offers advice for ensuring the relationship between freelance translator and client remains harmonious, productive and pleasant for both sides

In the 15 years since I started diversifying into translation I have worked with around 100 different clients and have encountered dozens of others, many of them translation agencies. Based on this experience it is worth reflecting on what distinguishes these agencies in terms of their interaction with the translator.

Initial contact

Let’s start with the initial contact. It is good practice for translation agencies seeking new freelance suppliers to spend some time researching individual translators’ backgrounds – eg from their respective websites or from online directories such as the main ITI Directory, the Scottish Network Directory at http://www.itiscotland.org.uk, or the new ITI German Network Directory at http://www.itigermannetwork. org.uk – and then send out personalised invitations that are relevant to the circumstances. A less desirable approach is to send out impersonal mass mailings.

Application forms

Some agencies adopt a rather informal approach, while others use more or less complex translator information forms as a basis for their supplier databases. Before asking translators to complete lengthy forms, it is a good idea to negotiate a mutually satisfactory rate as a basis for future collaboration.

Free test translations

The issue of free test translations has been discussed at some length in various forums over the years. In my view, while anyone is entitled to request a test translation, professional translators should not be expected to provide these free of charge. In other words, test translations should be treated just like any other job. In this context, anyone who has not seen it yet and can understand German will no doubt find the ‘Gratisschnitzel’ article published by the Austrian translators’ association Universitas quite entertaining. It can be found on page 4 of the document available from http://www.universitas.org/download.html?FILE_ID=112.

Confidentiality agreements

As members of professional institutions such as ITI, professional translators sign up to a code of conduct that includes confidentiality clauses. I am not a legal expert, but lengthy and complex additional confidentiality agreements as requested by some agencies would therefore seem rather unnecessary.

Deadlines

In certain circumstances, urgent deadlines requiring a translator to work outside normal office hours are unavoidable. While many freelance translators tend to work irregular hours and may well be quite happy to adjust their schedule to accommodate urgent assignments, out-of-hours or weekend work should not be taken for granted. A good agency is a freelancer’s ally, and should be prepared to negotiate appropriate surcharges with the end-client where appropriate.

Auxiliary tasks

As the job title suggests, a translator’s main task is translation. Handling of auxiliary tasks such as PDF extraction or layout refinements in complex file formats such as PowerPoint should not be taken for granted. In this respect, a statement published by a well-known translation memory software provider back in 2002 speaks for itself: ‘Pricing is not just set on a per word basis when complex file types are involved. If you are translating in file types other than Word-like web pages, or desktop publishing formats, you will want to charge file maintenance fees to compensate you for the extra skill required to manage and translate within such file types. Typically, a 10%-20% surcharge (depending on project complexity) is customary.’

Discounts

Some clients ask for discounts on the grounds that a job is particularly large. I would suggest that such a priori discounts are inappropriate, because: a) a commitment to undertake a large job within a standard timescale may well prevent a translator from taking on work from other clients in the meantime; and b) it could be argued that translators who can offer the additional project management skills and resources required for handling such projects should in fact be rewarded, rather than penalised.

Similarly, translators are often asked to accept a sliding discount scale that was originally suggested by the aforementioned TM software provider, but is by no means cast in stone. Such a scale takes into account internal repetitions, so-called 100% TM matches and TM matches with varying degrees of fuzziness. In my experience, fuzzy matches may well require more time to adapt to a new text than translating the relevant sentence from scratch, and therefore I do not offer ‘fuzzy discounts’. On the other hand, like probably most colleagues I do give discounts in some cases for repetitions and 100% matches.

At this point, however, I feel it is worth pointing out that the origin and quality of 100% matches is a crucial factor that often seems to get overlooked in the ‘great discount debate’. In other words, the 100% matches for which the client may expect a discount could have been based on poor previous translations undertaken by third parties, in which case any revision can be more time-consuming than a new translation.

An inquisitive translator is good news

The brochure Translation – getting it right, written by Chris Durban of ITI, is aimed at end-clients and is available to download from the ITI website, http://www.iti.org.uk. Part of the text says: ‘No one reads your texts more carefully than your translator. Along the way, he or she is likely to identify fuzzy bits – sections where clarification is needed. This is good news for you, since it will allow you to improve your original. … Ideally, translators strip down your sentences entirely before creating new ones in the target language. Good translators ask questions along the way.’

A good translation agency will try to convey this philosophy to the end-client, for the benefit of all parties involved. Similarly, the agency will automatically enquire about reference material in cases where such material is not provided by the end-client.

Feedback

Feedback on completed translation assignments is important and should be encouraged. In my experience, many agencies seem to adopt a kind of ‘no news is good news’ principle, which is fine in some ways, but even better is the occasional positive feedback.

Any agencies and indeed end-clients who might be lost for words in this respect could take some guidance from the Comments section of my website at http://www.HETranslation. co.uk. Constructive corrective feedback is also to be encouraged, of course. Less helpful are general statements such as ‘the client was not happy’, issued several months after a translation job was delivered. Not only is this detrimental to morale, but I also feel that in many cases, such generic criticism fails to stand up to closer scrutiny.

‘Faffometer’

It is worth introducing the concept of a ‘Faffometer’ for measuring the satisfaction level of the working relationship between agency and freelance translator. Sadly I cannot claim to have invented the term – it appears to have been introduced by Business Productivity Expert Mike Pagan, although he uses it in a slightly different – potentially also very useful – manner. For him it is an Excel spreadsheet divided into equal time periods in the working day, each of which is allocated a productive task, and where the least possible amount of time is spent ‘faffing about’. See his video newsletter at http://video. mikepagan.com/Newsletter/Faffometer (it is less than two minutes long) for more. I am still in the process of refining my own Faffometer.

At the high end of my Faffometer scale are agencies who tend to be reluctant to ask the end-client whether source texts can be made available in a format that can readily be processed with a CAT tool and, faced with IT challenges that may be beyond the capabilities of their project managers, expect translators to deal with auxiliary IT aspects such as extracting text from PDF files and preparing nicely formatted documents or presentations in the target language.

Ideal scenario

At the other end of the Faffometer scale is an agency I have been working for on a very regular basis for around 10 years, with a total job count approaching 2,000. This rather high figure is partly explained by the fact that all jobs, however small, are assigned a separate job number. While this may seem tiresome, it avoids can-you-please-just-translate-these-few-words-for-free scenarios. The agency invariably deals with any and all file format conversion and translation memory aspects and handles any and all pre- and post-processing tasks that may be required.

Specifically, all their texts (regardless of the format of the original source document) arrive in the form of specially formatted MS Word files, where any pre-processed text (eg 100% translation memory matches or internal repetitions) is clearly identified. Such text can simply be formatted as hidden and automatically ignored on import into TM tools such as Déjà Vu and MemoQ.

The attraction of this approach is that discount negotiations and sliding discount scales are never an issue, while the pre-processed text contained in the original file can be helpful for reference. In addition, the agency tends to make translation memory and glossary extracts from their in-house TM and terminology management systems available, always tries to obtain reference material from the end-client, and happily responds to terminology clarification requests.

Header image source: Pixabay

Author bio

Herbert Eppel is a chartered engineer. Originally from Heidelberg, he has been living and working in the UK since 1988. Herbert diversified into translation in around 1995, and is a member of several ITI networks.

He deals with texts from a wide range of technical and scientific subjects. For more, see http://www.HETranslation.co.uk.

Mentoring and Beyond: Business support by and for peers within ATA

The American Translators Association (ATA) set up its current mentoring program in 2011, and since then an estimated 240 mentor/mentee pairs have worked together to jointly explore the business side of translation. The program has been a big success, so much so that the Mentoring Committee, which is part of ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee, is working to offer new avenues of support. This article provides a short overview of the different program offerings, categorized by level of business experience in the T&I industry.

Beginners: Starting out in a new profession can be a bewildering experience. You have more questions than answers and everyone around you appears to know so much more. At that stage, it can be hard to know what to ask. “How do I get my foot in the door?” may be a burning question on your mind as a new freelancer, but it is not specific enough for a fruitful mentoring relationship. The Savvy Newcomer program provides information for members who are new to ATA and the profession. Its community and shared discussions are a great starting point. You may actually discover that many questions have already been answered in detail, and The Savvy Newcomer team can help you find this information. You can start by visiting the Resources page to see some links that have proven helpful at this career stage.

Mid-career: Once you’ve learned the ropes and established your business, there will be new questions on your mind. You may want to explore specializations, advanced marketing, or software products. Several options are available at that stage:

Apply to be a mentee in the Mentoring Program: ATA members with a few years of experience may apply to work one-on-one with a seasoned ATA member who will meet with them monthly to explore specific concerns. Applicants are encouraged to define actionable goals in order to be paired with an experienced colleague who has a proven record of achieving these goals. Past examples of such goals include time management, deepening knowledge in a field of specialization, financial planning, staying organized, etc. Further information can be found on the Mentoring Program webpage and applications may be submitted until March 6, 2020.

New Masterminds Program: The Mentoring Committee is also working on a new, peer-to-peer offer for ATA members with 2-5 years of professional experience. The independent groups will choose a defined topic, such as “Marketing for freelance translators.” The committee is currently developing the ground rules for such groups and will offer training and guidance for establishing and running Mastermind groups in the summer/fall of 2020.

Advanced career: ATA members who have been working in the industry for several decades may encounter completely new professional situations. How can they keep learning, stay current on new developments, and open up new income streams? At that stage, the following options may be open:

Apply to be a mentor in the Mentoring Program: Experienced translators and interpreters have reported that sharing their knowledge and experience as a mentor is beneficial in several ways. Not only are mentors helping junior colleagues learn more about the business of translation, but they also can learn about new professional challenges and innovative programs. Certified mentors receive CE points for their active involvement. Further information for mentors can be found on the Mentoring Program webpage as well.

Advanced Mastermind Groups: The new Masterminds program (see above), which is designed to facilitate intensive discussions and goal-setting among peers, will also be of interest to ATA members with fully matured businesses. The new groups will be a place to explore questions such as “work opportunities for highly experienced translators” or “getting ready to retire.” Further information on the program will be available in the summer/fall of 2020.

About the authors

Susanne van Eyl is a past chair of ATA’s Mentoring Committee and has been a driving force in designing the program in its current format. She has benefited from the program both as a mentor and a mentee. Dorothee Racette is a past president of ATA and has been a mentor in the program since 2013.

Quality Control in Translation: Must-Dos for Success as a Translator

This post was originally published on Translorial. It is reposted with permission from the author.

If you are considering starting – or have just started – a career in the translation industry, this article may be for you.

Here’s a challenge: if you had to choose a picture to describe the actual process taking place inside your brain when you translate, what would you pick? Personally, I would go for two pictures of one bridge: the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The old London Bridge spanning the River Thames in England

The old London Bridge spanning the River Thames in England

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The London Bridge today, in Lake Havasu City, Arizona

The London Bridge today, in Lake Havasu City, Arizona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of the Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau

This architectural masterpiece has a unique story: it was first built over the River Thames in London, then dismantled, shipped overseas, and later rebuilt in Arizona. Every time we start a translation project, we go through a version of this same process. We dismantle the original text, ship it to its new cultural environment with its own set of stylistic requirements and intended users, and rebuild it in that new environment with the aim of executing a faithful version of the original text.

Whatever the specifications for your bridge, you must never forget the one secret ingredient that will prevent it from falling down: quality. As a beginning translator, always keep in mind your translation will be carefully read and evaluated by the reviewer and the end client. Delivering a high-quality translation will enable the reviewer to:

  • Deliver a high-quality translation to the end client.
  • Give positive feedback to the translator.
  • Improve his/her own translation skills.
  • Meet his/her own deadlines without scrambling to beat the clock.

On the other hand, low-quality translation leads only to frustration. When faced with a translation that is substandard, the reviewer is forced to set aside the task of reviewing for that of re-translation, under much tighter deadlines than the translator had in the first place, to prevent the bridge from falling.

The practical methodology that follows is a 7-step process designed to help beginning translators build a strong and aesthetically pleasing bridge under solid, rigorous quality control. Each step has a series of quiz questions, for a total of 40 questions. If you can complete the quiz answering “yes” to all 40 questions, you will be able to deliver top-quality work. While the methodology may not apply seamlessly to all situations without exception, it should at least give you some ideas for building your own quality control procedure for delivering top-notch translations. If you decide to give it a go, let me know how it worked for you at moniquelongton at msn dot com.

The Detailed Methodology

1. Accepting a Translation Request

Here is your opportunity to determine whether you can comfortably take on the project or not. If you can say “Yes” to the questions below, you can accept the project. If any doubts or concerns arise, don’t be afraid to talk to your project manager about them. This sends a message to the PM that you are geared towards producing quality work.

 

1) Do you have access to the source material? Never accept a request “blind” without first seeing the source text.
2) Do you truly understand the subject matter of the source material? Be brutally honest with yourself. It is impossible to render a correct translation without a complete understanding of the subject matter.
 
3) Do you have the right resources (bilingual dictionaries, terminology lists, papers, books…) to translate the source material, or do you know which client website(s) or forums you can go to in order to find the information you need? Make sure you have the right paper/electronic tools for building your translation and expressing yourself as an expert on the subject would.
 
4) Do you have the style manuals you need in your target language? A mastery of your target language is a must.
5) Do you master the software tools you need to deliver your project? If you feel you are struggling with a software program, e.g., a CAT tool or a word processor, invest a little bit of your time every day toward mastering it.
6) Do you know the country/countries in which the translation will be published? If your client asks you to translate from English into French, is the translation for Belgium? France? Canada? Do you feel confident writing for those countries?
7) Do you know the purpose of the translation? Knowing the purpose of the translation will help you figure out which register you should use. Ask your project manager/direct client for any in-house reference files that can help you better understand your client’s preferences. In addition to industry terminology, plenty of companies in each industry use their proprietary terminology.

2. Your First Draft

Here is where you dig deeper to achieve a thorough understanding of your source text.

8) Do you follow the client’s instructions? Did the client ask to use a specific formatting style or template? Always follow the client’s instructions. Communicate with them if you have any doubts.
9) If the source file is in .PDF format, did you ask your project manager if you could run it through PDF to Word conversion software? Special care is needed here: scanned files can require a lot of post-processing to produce an editable file you can work with and deliver to the client as a quality end product. It is sometimes advisable to translate from scratch in a word processor.
10) If you use a CAT tool, are you constantly referring to your original source file? Sometimes, the order of the segments in a CAT tool file can be misleading. Always check the original source language file to make sure you properly understand the text structure.
11) Do you read each sentence of the source text before you translate it? Even when you are pressed for time, read each sentence completely before you translate it. The text will sound natural in your native language and will not follow the conventions of the source language. This will save you time during the review process.
12) Are you using common sense? For example, if you are translating “engine specifications” into French, do you know whether the author is referring to one single engine or several of them? Sometimes, you can find out with a bit of research. At other times, you can only know the answer by asking your client.
13) If you encountered any ambiguous items, did you clearly identify them and ask your project manager about them? Research any concept you are unsure about and don’t be afraid to ask your project manager any questions you might still have: e.g., do you understand all the abbreviations in your source text?
14) Are you abiding by all the conventions used in your native language? For example, to indicate a monetary amount, English requires that you write the currency symbol first, followed by the amount. Find out what the experts in your native language do: how do they represent amounts?
15) Did you take extra care to write all proper nouns and numbers correctly? Use your copy/paste functions for proper nouns and numbers if you can. For example, if you translate a document for a major bank like UBS, you could easily misspell it as “USB.” Your spellchecker will not catch that mistake, but chances are UBS will…
16) If the source text contains a quote, did you check if the quote exists in the target language? If you translate a quote from a piece of EU legislation, for example, look for the corresponding official translation of that quote in your target language.

3. Your First Bilingual Review

If the deadline allows, always perform your first review the day after you have finished your draft version.

17) Did you translate everything? We are not robots: always check for missing words, sentences or sections.
18) Can you understand everything you wrote? If you have to read a phrase or sentence twice to understand what you wrote, this may be an indication you need to rework it.
19) Do you have the correct register? Take this opportunity to check your register.
20) Are your headings correct? Headings can be tricky to translate. Now that you have a complete understanding of your source text, always take a critical look at all translated headings in the document to make sure your rendering is relevant in each case.
21) Did you correct any obvious mistakes? Now is your chance to catch any obvious or glaring errors. If you’ve been able to postpone your review for the following day, they should jump out at you.
22) Did you pay attention to false cognates? E.g. “library” (English) and “librairie” (French).
23) Did you follow all standard conventions in your mother tongue? For example, what are the conventions for writing a list in your target language, or for executing quotation marks, or for comma, period, colon and semicolon placement with respect to closing quotation marks?
24) Did you pay attention to the text layout and fonts? Make sure you reproduce the original layout and formatting, including but not limited to fonts, font colors, point size, highlighting, boldface and italics, as closely as possible. Again, if you use a CAT tool, referring to your original text will help you quickly find any special formatting that you need to reproduce.

4. Your Second Bilingual Review

You have really mastered your subject by now. This is your last chance to check for complete accuracy between the source and target texts and make sure you have followed all the client’s instructions. While performing a complete bilingual review, focus on the next items.

25) Did you correct any minor translation errors or omissions? You are now mastering your source text. Here is your chance to focus on the details.
26) Did you check for consistent use of terminology? If you work with a CAT tool, use whichever consistency checker is built into the system. You can use the automatic search function (Ctrl + F keys in Windows or cmd + F in Mac OS) to identify any needed changes.
27) If you are working with a CAT tool, did you use its integrated consistency checker? Always use all of the utilities and checkers in the software that will allow you to spot any mistake you haven’t caught before.
28) Did you run an automatic spell check? Run a spell check in your CAT tool. If its spelling checker is poor, copy/paste your text into another application that can check your spelling and run a spell check in that software.
29) Last but not least, did you check whether your translation contains double spaces? Use your automatic search-and-replace function and replace double spaces with single spaces where they are inappropriate..

5. Your First Monolingual Review

Here is your opportunity to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and read your translation as if it had been written in your target language in the first place. While reading your translation, focus on the next few items.

30) If you used a CAT tool, did you preview your translation in the original file format? Make sure all text of the target file is displayed in a legible form for your end client.
31) Does your translation sound like it was written in your native language in the first place? Here is your chance to check you have written your translation the way a native speaker would have expressed it. If you are “out like a light” after reading your translation, chances are your audience will be too…
32) With respect to pronouns, can the reader clearly identify what they refer to? Always check for consistency and flow from one sentence to the next, and from one paragraph to the next.
33) Is your register appropriate for the type of document you are translating? You may have to either stick to the source text (e.g. legal texts) or brighten your style and play with the way you start your sentences and paragraphs (e.g. marketing content).

6. Your Second Monolingual Review

Here is your opportunity to catch any last-minute details.

34) Did you print out your translation and read it from the print copy? Nowadays, most people scan texts from a computer monitor, tablet, or smart phone. Reviewing a print copy of your translation is an experiment I recommend to every translator.
35) Did you read every word of your translation? Take your time…pretend you’re a sloth if you need to. Read every single word of your text to make sure you did not forget to write conjunctions such as “and,” or forget to insert a critical comma or delete an unnecessary apostrophe somewhere.
36) Did you pay extra attention to grammar? In my experience, many grammatical mistakes are not detected by automatic spellcheckers. You must read every single character of the translation to find these mistakes.
37) Did you pay extra care to homophones (“sound-alikes”)? Spell checkers don’t catch improper substitutions of “their” for “they’re,” “women” for “woman,” etc.
38) Did you use consistent punctuation and capitalization? Checking these items in a printout of your translation makes all the difference. Your eye will catch these types of mistakes more quickly than on a screen.

7. Delivery of your Translation

Here is your last opportunity to advise your project manager with any special instructions for the reviewer/end client.

39) Did you clearly indicate any unresolved items or translation decisions to your project manager so that the reviewer/direct client is made aware of them? If any concerns remain when it’s time to deliver the project, let the reviewer know about these items so he/she can pay extra attention to them.
40) If your project is very specific, did you indicate your
research work to the reviewer?
Submitting your sources to the reviewer will show you took the time to fully understand the source text and choose the right target terminology.

Author bio

Monique Longton has been translating legal and financial documents from English, Swedish, and Danish into French for over 12 years. Her expertise with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and related privacy and data security matters was honed by translating numerous legal analyses, security policies, privacy notices, and data processing agreements.

As a Certified Information Privacy Professional for Europe and member of the International Association for Privacy Professionals, she stays current on industry trends, attends cybersecurity events, and networks with privacy professionals. She is especially familiar with the unique GDPR challenges faced by U.S.-based freelance linguists working for privacy-minded European clients.

Work smarter, not harder: Scripts to enhance translator productivity

*Note: The instructions found in this post should work on the majority of Windows computers. Apple users, let us know if you come up with your own way of making this work!

Recently, my IT guy [husband] set me up with a great new tool. It has made my life as a translator so much more effective that it would be a crime not to share it with you all. I can see tips like this helping with productivity on so many levels and I’d love to hear what other hacks you all can come up with.

Here’s the trick: we set up a “script” to run on my computer so that whenever I hit CTRL+SHIFT+c on my keyboard, it automatically opens a new tab on my browser and performs a Google search for the text I’ve highlighted. I no longer need to copy some text, switch programs, open a new tab in Chrome, and then paste and search; I simply use my mouse to highlight the text I want to research and hit CTRL+SHIFT+c on my keyboard. I’ve used this about a million times since I started running the script a few months ago; here are just a few instances in which the tool has been extremely handy:

  • Reading through a source text in MS Word and came across a word I didn’t recognize
  • Wanted to make sure a phrase in my translation in Trados was the proper way to say something in target language
  • While editing a colleague’s work, wasn’t sure if the term they were using was the proper collocation
  • Reviewing my own translation, I came upon a name that I wasn’t sure was spelled correctly

You can imagine how often these situations arise in our daily work as translators, editors, transcribers, copywriters… you name it. Here’s how to implement the script on your device; be sure to let us know how it works and if you come up with any hacks of your own!

1. Download a scripting program (I used AutoHotkey)

2. Create your script (these instructions can also be found by opening the AutoHotkey program on your computer and clicking “create a script file”):

Right click on your desktop and select “New” > ”AutoHotkey Script”

Name the script (ending with .ahk extension)

Locate the file on your desktop and right click it

Select “Open with” > “Notepad”

3. Write your script: To write the script itself, just paste the following text into Notepad and hit save.

^+c::

{

Send, ^c

Sleep 50

Run, http://www.google.com/search?q=%clipboard%

Return

}

4. Run your script: To begin executing the program, just double click the desktop icon to run the script. You might not notice any change on screen, which is normal. Test that your script is working by highlighting text in any application and clicking CTRL+SHIFT+c simultaneously on your keyboard. If this operation opens your browser and does a Google search for the highlighted text, you’re all set!

5. Troubleshooting: If you find that your search script isn’t working, make sure you’ve set the script to run on startup (so that each time your computer restarts, the script runs automatically and you don’t have to remember to click on it). To do this, click Windows+r on your keyboard to open the Run dialogue box. Type “shell:startup” into the field and hit OK. This will open your computer’s Startup folder, which contains files, folders, and programs that are set to open or run automatically when you start your device. Just copy the file containing your beautiful new .ahk script from your desktop into this folder and you will no longer have to worry about it.

Another script I came up with to enhance productivity inserts a specific line of text that I use very frequently (“[Translator’s Note: Handwritten text is indicated in italics.]”) with just two clicks of my keyboard! What other uses can you come up with for scripts and macros like these?

For more ideas and help with AutoHotkey, check out their user forum here. A tutorial on the basics of AutoHotkey can also be found here. You’ll find that tools like AutoHotkey are a very simple form of computer programming, and similar to the languages that we work with as translators, computer languages have syntax, rules, and exceptions that can actually be fun and useful to learn about. Happy scripting!

Image source: Pixabay

How to Successfully Tackle Translation Tests

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle, with permission

If approached with the right mindset, translation tests can be a professionally enriching experience for translators.

It’s safe to say that most translators don’t consider translation tests to be their favorite part of the job. In fact, it might be the most dreaded part of a translator’s day. But it doesn’t have to be that way! As we all know, translation tests are the way most companies judge our work and ultimately hire us, so they’re here to stay. When approached with the right mindset, these tests can actually be a professionally enriching experience (seriously!). And you must be mindful that there’s a lot more being judged than your translation ability.

When I first launched my career as a freelance translator, I had so many questions about what clients really wanted from a translation test. After many years working as a full-time translator, and now with a rather large number of translation tests under my belt, I’ve learned that both failure and success on these tests can be great teachers.

Read the Instructions

This first tip seems obvious, but it cannot be taken for granted (in fact, it’s worth spending two full paragraphs covering it!). Before you work on any translation test you need to know exactly what the client wants you to do. Does the translation test have a deadline? In what format should it be returned? Are there character restrictions? Are there any specific instructions included with the test package? Companies are testing your ability to follow instructions as much as your translation skills. Make sure you review the email exchange and follow any instructions included in the body of the email as well as in the document itself. Sometimes instructions are included in the translation file. WARNING: review Excel files carefully because one of those tabs might include your instructions.

You should also think about the unstated expectations based on your background knowledge of the client. Some clients seek a creative translation, while others might care about the localization for a specific target market. Knowing that information ahead of time will help you meet, and hopefully exceed, the client’s expectations.

When in Doubt, Just Ask!

If anything in the instructions isn’t clear, make sure you ask for clarification—don’t take anything for granted. If the client didn’t provide reference material, a glossary, a style guide, special instructions about the language variant, or the level of formality of the translation test—ask about it! The client might not be able to provide you with any of this information, but it never hurts to ask. By asking for a confirmation or clarification, it shows that you’re being attentive to the instructions and striving to meet their expectations. Additionally, it shows that you realize extra material may be necessary when working on a project.

For many years I assumed that companies didn’t send any additional material because they wanted to see how I was able to “fend for myself,” but this assumption has cost me. On one occasion, I didn’t pass a very important translation test because the terminology was not what the client wanted. I went back to the client and explained that I hadn’t been sent a terminology list and that was why I couldn’t use their preferred lexicon. They told me that I should have asked for a glossary, and that they would have given it to me had I asked for it.

Looking back, I now realize that the company was testing whether or not I would be proactive in requesting whatever I needed to render an accurate translation that met their terminology preferences. So, when in doubt, ask for more references and specifics. The worst thing that can happen is that they won’t give you any. However, taking the initiative to be proactive can make all the difference!

Research Smart

If you’re not provided with any reference material, you’ll need to use your ability to do online research following commonly accepted guidelines. It’s important that you refer to official glossaries and that you’re able to cite references to the terminology you use, should this be required. By researching, you might be able to find out where the text has been extracted from online. While this scenario isn’t likely, I have seen it happen more than once! This deep-dive for company intel can give you more information about the client’s background and terminology preferences. In fact, having a curious spirit is one of the most important traits of a successful translator. Translation tests can have specific terminology on an obscure subject matter, and even though you won’t always be an expert on the topic, what matters is your ability to research and find accurate terminology.

Attention to Detail

A translator’s attention to detail is as much on display as anything else. Translation tests are bound to have tricky sentences, segments that cannot be translated directly and might need complete rewording in the target language, etc. It’s your job to identify those areas and resolve them to the best of your knowledge and ability. In an ambiguous situation, it’s sometimes a good idea to leave a comment. I suggest you leave a sentence or two explaining why you chose a certain word or phrase, such as “More context is required here in order to make the best possible translation. Could you please clarify the ambiguity in the part that reads [ . . . ]?” Include the note in the body of the delivery email or use track changes to mark it up within the file you send back.

What are some details to ensure your success? You may need to flag a mistake in the source text, segments that need to be “transcreated” entirely (here, your choice needs to be explained), the use of character restrictions, reference links in need of localization, or even the gender of the target audience. Other details to keep in mind are how acronyms should be treated, measurements, and alphabetical order.

The Two Ps: Proofread and be Punctual!

Your work is not finished after you’re done with the translation. Once you’ve got it all down on paper, you reach the most critical part of the job: proofreading. Proofreading your own work is important in any translation project, but it’s an absolutely critical stage to passing a translation test. Ideally, try to step away from the project and come back to it the next day, allowing you to examine your work with fresh eyes. If there’s no specific deadline, take advantage of the extra time to proofread your work well. The best case scenario allows you to proofread more than once with intervals of time in between each readthrough.

Resist the temptation to have your work proofread by another translator. The test is meant to judge your translation skills alone. Unless you plan to work with a particular proofreader on all of your projects, you need to recreate the real scenario and produce the translation quality that you’ll be able to live up to consistently.

I cannot stress the importance of punctuality enough. If the translation test has a set deadline, you need to meet it. Companies are testing you on your ability to meet deadlines, because deadlines are often as important to the client as the quality of your translation. If the test doesn’t have a set deadline, make sure you take a reasonable amount of time to get it back to the client. In my opinion, a good rule of thumb is to send it back between three to five days after you receive it. This timeline is reasonable for a translation test of 500 words or less, but it depends on your schedule and the client’s schedule.

Always Ask for Feedback

Whatever the outcome of your test, always ask for feedback. Feedback is a great way to learn more about the client’s expectations and, frankly, it’s also a great way to learn from any mistakes you might have made. Some companies will be very open with their feedback. They might even give you a markup of the document and show you the comments their reviewer made on your work. Other companies are more secretive. They might not tell you anything about your results on the test, but it’s always worth it to ask.

If you’ve passed a translation test, it’s an excellent opportunity to learn about what you’re doing right. Did you get any comments back? What aspects of your translation did they like the most? Any phrases or particular terms that they would ask you to change the next time?

Practice and Learn

Translation tests don’t have to be a burden. Approached the right way, they’re just great practice. Consider each one as an opportunity to demonstrate what a great translator you are and to learn about your strengths and weaknesses. Even if you don’t agree with the reviewer’s comments, you can, for example, learn that the client is not a good fit. That’s valuable information! Take each translation test and make it a fun challenge to learn from the experience.

Translation tests are only a small window into what it could be like to work for a particular client, and for the client to get a sense of what it could be like to work with you. The real test will be an actual project you undertake, with a set deadline, and specific instructions and guidelines to follow. Only then will you finally know if the relationship will prosper!


Marina Ilari, CT is an ATA-certified English>Spanish translator with over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. She is an expert in translation tools and managing projects in English and Spanish. She has worked as a translator, editor, and quality assurance specialist for many companies around the world with a special focus on creative translations and video game localization. She is the chief executive officer of Terra Translations and co-host of the podcast about translation, En Pantuflas. Contact: marina@terratranslations.com.