This is the 2nd part of the post. Part 1
In this part of the post, I am looking at the second translation test type: for translation agencies.
In the 1st part, I explained that a test translation is mainly a great opportunity for a vendor and customer to check each other for compatibility. How are the agency translation tests different? Please note that by “agency translation tests”, I mean those tests that an agency uses to decide whether they can add a vendor to their vendor pool. When an agency requests a vendor to complete a test for a specific end client, this is actually a “specific project” test, which I looked at in the 1st part.
This type of translation tests has the peculiarities below.
Firstly, the scale of translator evaluation provided by such test is quite limited. The test is usually short, which makes it hard to consider it truly representative. This test is rather a rough screening tool, and in this sense it is very valuable to an agency. A low quality test translation means that this vendor cannot be trusted, so the agency saves time and money they would otherwise lose through working this vendor. In other words, a negative test result is indeed useful for an agency. But does it hold true for the positive result as well? It is my opinion that the answer is no, since it is not exactly representative: a positive result of a single test doesn’t guarantee that this vendor will continue delivering the same quality, and all their translations will satisfy the end clients. I believe that a truly complete opinion of a translator’s work can be only achieved through a long-term business relationship, making it possible to evaluate at least the following aspects:
- whether a translator is able to understand an end client’s expectations and tailor their translation accordingly.
- whether a translator can ensure stable performance, without outstandingly bad jobs.
- whether a translator is prepared to listen to an editor’s comments and learn.
Evaluating the above factors within a single test is basically impossible.
Additionally, it is important to understand who evaluates the test translation. Typically, it is another translator, a vendor of the same agency. Their evaluation has 2 peculiarities:
- This translator is a stakeholder of the whole process, since they evaluate a potential competitor. By admitting the high quality of a test, they confirm that is okay for the agency to buy translation from this new vendor. Often, this means that the latter will take their cut in the orders the former would otherwise have just for themselves. Will the evaluator be interested in that?
- Their judgement is quite subjective. Given that any evaluation in this industry is pretty much based on language and style preferences, even very professional translators have reduced chances in the agency testing process. Moreover, it is not rare to see a translator evaluated by a less qualified colleague. For instance, almost every speaker of Russian knows that “например” should be separated by commas from the rest of the sentence. However, many don’t know that when in a coherent construction, it should be separated by commas not on its own, but together with this construction, i.e. the comma after “например” is not necessary. If an evaluator adds such comma and highlights it as a punctuation error, this can result in 10-20% subtracted from the total test score and ultimately lead to a negative test result. Therefore, an evaluation by a single translator may sometimes create a subjective barrier on the way to an end client.
Due to the above reasons, we sometimes approach general tests from agencies critically, while happily and readily accepting specific project tests from them. As an alternative, we can provide client references, existing translations, or request to contact us when there is a need to take a specific project test.
Meanwhile, when evaluating other vendors’ tests from agencies, we are trying to be as objective as possible, namely:
- avoid highlighting minor issues.
- avoid highlighting style issues – just the outstanding ones.
- take into account outstanding errors only such as mistranslations and terminology inconsistency.
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