Who tests the translators?

Translation tests can be a welcome sign of interest from a prospective client for a translator…or an annoyance that elicits loud groans among some of the more seasoned linguists. I recently took part on a group discussion on LinkedIn regarding a translator’s reaction to a client requesting a translation test. The topic is so hot and thorny in the translation community that the discussion collected more than 125 postings in its thread.

I am not going to engage in endless arguments about the pros and cons of translation testing. Having said that, I strongly believe that a business (the translation agency or LSP) has every right to vet the assets it hires to perform linguistic services, especially because ours is an unregulated profession (at least, in America).

What I am going to propose to you, gentle readers (sorry about pilfering your phrase, Miss Manners), is this: let’s face the issue in a productive manner. Let’s talk about standardizing the translation test, maybe get the American Translators Association involved in the discussion. Some might say ‘But we already request ATA certification.’ Yes, but the ATA certification is no proof of performance.

What I propose is bringing all interested parties under one roof to discuss the pros and cons of translation tests, the current situation (maybe run some surveys among LSPs?) and suggest ways to address the weak points. Translation agencies need a tool to vet the translators, translators need feedback but also need feedback from peers, not bilingual staff. Also, this feedback accompanying the translation test results needs to be fairly and professionally delivered.

I am in favor of an ethical translation test, conducted by translation companies or other organizations that hire translators. The review of the tests must be in the hands of peers having no affiliation with the translation service provider administering the test; otherwise, the tested translator might think –and with reason– that the results are tainted by bias.

In addition, a standardized, ethical translation test can complement the ATA certification and benefit both translation companies and translators: everybody knows the rules, plays by the rules and abide by evidence-based decisions. Such a test can also become as valuable as a QA standard in many spaces in the language services marketplace.

What are your thoughts on the subject? If you administer translation tests, is it a chore, a necessary evil, an effective tool to hire linguists? If you are a translator, do you have examples of fair tests? Please share with us.

1 Comment

Filed under Negotiations, Standard translation test, Translation test, Translation testing

One response to “Who tests the translators?

  1. g2lls

    Translation tests are very much a chore. I actually wrote in my own blog posting today (http://www.globaltolocallanguagesolutions.com/blog) that I know of at least one instance in which the translator that sent back the test was not the one who started working on the translations, there was a night-and-day difference. The test translation was impeccable but the translator was far from qualified. It is impossible to know if a translator has their translation test looked over by another translator ahead of time or if they beat the system in some other way.

    However, as an agency, you have to do something, right? There has to be some way to qualify translators, and a translation test seems like a good idea. I totally agree with the author here that the ATA or some organization should standardize the testing process. The only way to find out if your translator is up to par is to monitor them awhile, and that, of course, takes extra time and money, making it even more difficult for new translators to enter the market.

    Thank you for the excellent post and for bringing this issue up for discussion. It seems that no one is happy with the current system, neither translators or agencies. It seems that agencies are requiring more and more complex tests to qualify linguists, and I am sure translators do hate taking their time for no guaranteed outcome! Until there is another way though, agencies and buyers have to do something.

    Grace Bosworth
    President, Global2Local Language Solutions

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