Unpaid test translations

Unpaid test translations and should you take them?

In which circumstances should you take an unpaid test translation?

Some experienced translators prefer not to carry out unpaid test translations on principle, some translators would only take unpaid test translations if the test is about 200-300 words long. Surely how long it takes to complete a 200-300 words long test translation will hugely depend on the quality of the original text, the complexity of the subject matter, whether it falls into one of your specialisms and how swamped you are with other tasks. Test translations are a little bit like job interviews, the result will determine whether you are in or not. You are undertaking a test translation in order to establish a regular working relationship with an agency and the result will possibly affect your future income. Therefore if you decide to take a test translation you must make sure that it’s a perfect translation that reads well, free of any grammatical or terminology errors, inaccuracies, unnecessary omissions or additions or any typos.

In general, I think you should be paid for every test translation you take and there are some agencies out there who pay their translators for every piece of test translation, regardless of the fact that whether they have any existing professional relationship with the translator or not. For me, if I am already swamped with work, I would probably skip the offer so that it doesn’t interfere with my existing workload or deadlines. However, if I have time and think that the agency asking for me to take the unpaid test translation with a reasonable wordcount (200-300 words which is standard) is worth it e.g. if I would like to work with them and the subject matter is of interest to me, I would take an unpaid test translation. But what do you do if someone asks you to carry out an unpaid test translation of a marketing text that’s nearly 600 words and needs to be translated creatively? This very thing happened to me recently!

I was contacted by someone, representing a healthcare AI company through LinkedIn, asking me to carry out a test translation. Here is a copy of my reply to them, after I told them that I would require a payment to do so, and they refused to pay me for a test translation (which I haven’t done without confirmation of payment) saying that it’s a very small task and they had other candidates complete tests without payment:

Just to let you and your colleague know that what you are describing, as a very small task has nearly 600 words to translate and you are asking for creative work to be produced. Given that a professional translator can translate around 2000 words a day, I will let you calculate how much time you think this task might take.

As you or your manager wouldn’t expect to work free, I am not sure why your manager thinks that it would be okay to expect freelance translators, whom by the way are people like any other, with bills to pay, to work for free!

This is another example, of the very companies themselves, who rely on new markets and translation work for their growth, undermining translators’ roles; making subjective comments about how long it takes to do a job and expect them to work for free.

I posted this on Linkedin on the same day and the reaction I got from my fellow freelance translators, reinforced my initial reply. Everyone agreed with my decision not to take a long unpaid test translation. People’s sentiment was that there is something fishy about an agency if they ask translators to carry out such long unpaid test translations, which was indeed my own gut feeling about this agency too!

So just to recap I would take an unpaid test translation under the below circumstances:

    • If the test in question is of a reasonable length (200-300 words) 

    • If I am not already swamped with other work and have free time to create good work that I can be sure would pass the test 

    • If I am comfortable with the subject of the text and if it falls into one of my specialisms

    • If I am keen to work with the agency offering the test translation

    • If I am not sure about any of the points described above I shouldn’t take the test translation

About the author:

My name is Ali Yildirim. I originally studied Classical Archaeology at the University of Istanbul, before coming to the UK in 2001 and working as an archaeologist for 2 years.
I have worked in the language services industry in various roles including as a teacher of Turkish, interpreter and bilingual teaching assistant before setting out as a freelance Turkish translator in 2005. I obtained a diploma in translation in 2012 and became a member of the Institute of Chartered Linguists in the same year and obtained a Chartered Translator status in 2019. I am also a qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and ISO 17100:2015 Qualified Translator.

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