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How to Assess Translators’ Quality Before Assigning a Project

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“Fishing” for reliable translators is a challenge

I am tired of poor test translations that do not lead to any collaboration between our company and freelancers. Considering a candidate, sending a test translation, reviewing the translation, processing an invoice all drain time. Is there a better way? In this article, I suggest using larger samples of previous translations as an alternative to test translations.

Why is a large sample better than a short sample?

I have written that I am not a great believer in short test translations. I suggested that samples are better. And larger samples are even better!

Short samples are often just as ineffective as short test translations. An average translator is able to provide a few nice samples, but when it comes to real-world projects, can fail on the first job. Why is quality in samples better than the quality in a real-world job? First, a translation sample may not have even been done by the candidate at all. Second, it is pretty easy to produce good quality in a one-page sample. Even the world’s worst procrastinator can focus for a few short hours and minimize errors; but a 10,000-word translation is much more prone to error. And this is what is really interesting for someone like me, who wants to see if a candidate is really worthwhile: can this translator minimize errors when it is difficult to do so?

Among other things, a large sample makes it possible to run automatic QA. You do not even have to know the target language to do that. The QA results will show whether the translator runs QA on his translations, which is quite important. Do you want to work with a translator who does not bother to check spelling or make sure that he did not omit any numbers?

“No samples” policy

What makes asking for a larger sample especially valuable is that if a translator refuses, I consider that a red flag. Those who do so tend to cite reasons of confidentiality. While a certain percentage of translated materials is indeed confidential, I find it hard to believe that a professional translator has been translating nothing but secret information all his or her career. This is what I, as a client, think in such cases:

  1. It is particularly strange, when translators say that they specialize in website or user manual translation, but then refuses to provide samples. How confidential can a public website really be? Or a user manual published on the web?
  2. Why does a professional translator have no portfolio of samples? A “portfolio” of a few one-page samples is not a translation pro’s portfolio. For instance, even though, personally, I rarely translate now, I have built a large portfolio of samples over the years, which I could provide to anyone, if I wanted to sell my personal translation services.
  3. Is the translator afraid that by looking at a larger sample, potential clients may notice errors that are easy to minimize in small samples, but more difficult in larger ones?

Bottom line

Samples are better than small test translations, and larger samples are even better. I encourage translation buyers to ask for samples, where practical. If translators are unable to provide larger samples of their work, I would hesitate to work with them.

Read more on this topic in the post about translators who refuse to provide both samples and test translations.

5 comments

  • “What makes asking for a larger sample especially valuable is that if a translator refuses, I consider that a red flag.”

    Sorry, but with the (possible) exception of public documents (Websites, published books and articles, and the like), providing large (or even small) translation samples from work done for most customers, would, in fact, be in breach of the agreements between translator and customer.

    I have yet to see a contract with a translation customer that would actually allow me to disclose the information I translated for them to third parties. It doesn’t matter if the information is actually confidential or not – what matters is the contract you sign with the customer.

    And since most commercial translation is “work for hire” the owner of the translation is the customer, who may put any restriction on its use they like.

    • Hello Riccardo,
      Thank you very much for your comment!
      You are making an undisputable point. What I find hard to understand, though, is how a translation pro does only work for paying clients and has no other samples to provide at all, such as free-of-charge translations made for friends or as a volunteer.
      Best regards,
      Roman

  • Last time I did a translation for free as a volunteer must have been more than twenty years ago, when I translated a few chapters of the Amnesty International report on the death penalty.

    I have done a very few free translations for friends, but usually that is just something like a birth certificates or something like that. If someone asked me to do more than that for free (such as a long translation), I would gently point out that this is what I do for a living, and that my definition of “professional translator” includes being paid for my work.

  • Interesting, Ricardo, thank you. It appears that you are one of those translators that I described in this post. What do you say to a potential client who asks you to show the quality of your work? Do you just do a short test?

  • I have a couple of short sample translations to show (pieces of translation I translated just to have a sample), but mostly, yes, if the prospect looks interesting and has a good business reputation, and if they ask me to translate a short sample, I do just that.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.