Why I am okay with translation tests and what wine tasting has to do with it

Why I am okay with translation tests and what wine tasting has to do with it

I am super okay with taking translation tests. I translate from quite “normal” languages (English, Spanish, French) and how is a PM supposed to know I am as skilled as I claim to be on my website? Or on my LinkedIn profile?

Let’s take a step back.
When I go out for dinner and treat myself with a good bottle of wine (I mean: good. Not to show off my sophisticated tastes but it’s either good wine or water), I want to taste it first. Why should I drink a whole bottle of wine if it’s bad, if it’s not what I expected? And what if it is the wine I expected, but it’s corked? Should I pay for the corked wine I took a little sip of?

I was with a friend, some years ago. Late night, we were looking for a quite place to enjoy a good drink. We ended up in a place I fell in love with, mostly because the owner, Andrea, gave us the great opportunity of tasting a lot of wines and as our tasting went on he was very good at understanding what was the right wine for us. I don’t live in Rome anymore, but everytime I have the chance to go there I do my best not to miss it. Did he go bankrupt because he offered us three glasses of wine? I hope not.

Back to translation tests.

I think translation tests are to be seen as similar to those sad welcoming drinks you get at corporate events. Those flat, tasteless flutes of Prosecco.  Some document has been stored for years in some agency’s Dropbox and is forwarded to random people claiming they can do things.

Even though, I like a few things about translation tests.

I like looking for things on the Internet, it is probably on of my most outstanding skills (if so do you, don’t miss this). So, as soon as I receive a translation test I look for the source online. It gives me an idea of the kind of people I am dealing with. Sometimes, the text is part of a website already translated (probably by the agency itself). Not my favourite, but it gives me the opportunity to say “Ehi, thank you for taking out the brand name, but I found the translation online anyway”. It means that

  1. I do researches. I know how to use Google operators.

  2. I am honest, I am just too lazy to cheat.

Not bad as a start. I usually say thanks but no thanks to these agencies because I can’t see the point of using such documents to test new translators and I don’t like my job being compared to that of my colleagues. Since most of the texts I deal with rely on nuances, overtones and cultural references, I don’t like this True or False approach.

Other times, the text comes from a completely random source. A long lost spare parts catalogue of some Soviet Union industrial plant. Challenge accepted. I can show the potential client that

  1. Not only I do researches, but I know what sources to pick and what to discard

  2. I am open to discussion. There is nothing wrong with adding comments. It’s a test, not a fully paid TEP assignment. I want to guide my future client through my knowledge of that certain topic. I put one word instead of another because I think this part belongs to this engine. Give me more context and I’ll show you.

It also happens that translation tests are made of endless instructions. Like, a never-ending PDF nightmare. I took a translation test it took me 2 full working days to deliver. 16 hours. I did my math and considered it an investment. The client contacted me for a possible long-term collaboration. The pay was interesting. I wanted to give it a try. The translation itself was so complicated that in my heart I finally forgave Cicero for his reckless use of hypotaxis. I felt frustrated and I wanted to give up. Well, I didn’t and I learnt that translation tests are valuable for us translators too.

  • I learnt and memorized a huge quantity of guidelines in a very short time and apparently I sticked to all of them.

  • I learnt how to invest my time. I researched the client, popped up a few questions to people on LinkedIn and established it was worth a try.

  • I was anxious. I perform very badly under pressure and I never take on any assignment if I am not 100% sure I have enough time to deal with any possible world catastrophe and still deliver on time. So I re-evaluated my productivity.

  • I had to deal with something completely new and I had no one to refer to. When I start a new project I either know the client, so I know I can ask direct questions (can you explain this / can I have more context for that) or I always have a brief Skypecall to check if everything is clear and agreed. Again, it dragged me out of my comfort zone and apparently I performed well.

  • I knew that the test was tailor-made. It was super accurate. My name was mentioned in every paragraph containing instructions. I know it could have been a simple find and replace, but someone actually spent time on that, which I appreciated. The PM sent me a loving good-luck message.

  • It gave me a very good insight of the way this agency works. Part of the test was basically “Let us know you are able to read the instructions, follow them and don’t get killed in the process”. You’ll be surprised to know that is quite a gift.

Of course, there are scams too but it is quite easy to understand your test should be shorter than 5000 words (you don’t need to drink a barrel of wine to know it’s good).

This does not apply to other services, for which I think a portfolio is more than enough, see transcreation and audiovisual translation services. Asking for a free test would be like going at a tailor’s, having him/her adjusting the sewing pattern to your size and then disappear forever. 


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