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5 Ways To Make A Test Translation Useful

After having a number of test translations to complete in the past few days, I started to wonder why our profession has come to this – do you know of any other professionals who get tested before being allowed to potentially receive paid work?

Could you ever imagine asking (for example) a taxi driver to drive you a few hundred yards for free to evaluate his/her skills before deciding whether to give him/her a paid job?

One of the outsourcers of my recent free tests even demanded I complete this test within a certain timeframe! My cynical side asks was this an attempt to utilise my services for free? Had the outsourcer split the text into, say, ten segments and sent it to ten translators as free tests to then give the final document (after being proofread by one translator, I assume) to a paying client?

Of course, tests are probably one of the most useful tools in evaluating a translator’s abilities if given a good test translation in the first place.

But what does make a good test translation? How do you make them work for both the translator and the agency? Have a look at our list of things that could make a translation test more useful for the tester.



The text should focus on a specific subject. A contract, for example, could test one’s ability to translate legal jargon. A general text would not test a lot in my opinion and should probably be avoided.


Of course it needs to be meaningful with enough translation problems, but they shouldn’t turn into entire projects. Personally I wouldn’t agree to test of more than 300 words.


If an outsourcer does use testing, they should use the same text for all applicants to make it fair. One text for those who specialise in law, another for pharmaceutical specialists etc. Similarly, one person should be assigned the proofreading / marking of all texts of a specific subject.

Translation Brief

At least give some background on the text you want translating, what will it “be used” for? Who is the target readership – is s/he a specialist or a lay person? Sometimes this can be obvious, but be clear. How can you expect a translator to do well if you want a document translated into UK-English but don’t specify this?


I think this is probably the most important find more. And after some research one of the most overlooked! If you are going to refuse to add a translator to your database because of the test, at least let them see the reviewed document so s/he can learn from the experience.


What do you think?

Do you carry out free test translations?

What are your experiences with them? Good or bad?

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