Re: Preparing a translator test - longish

Subject: Re: Preparing a translator test - longish
From: "Nickell Traduction" <nickelltrad -at- autoroute -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2000 08:04:22 -0500

I've worked as a technical translator for ten years. Translation is still
my main source of income, but I got into technical writing two years ago.
Anyway, I have a lot of experience with translation tests.

If the test is for contracts only, it should be no longer than two pages
(and no more than 500 words), which should be enough to judge a person's
work. People get suspicious after that, because, unfortunately, there's
been too many companies and even other translators who have split up a job
they needed done and used it as a
"test". A whole bunch of people apply for the "position" (usually contract)
and take the test, not realizing, generally until later (and yes, it usually
does get found at at some point) that they helped the company/translator to
do a job for free.

Pick a text or two (a couple of paragraphs from each) that is similar to
what the person will be expected to do. There are tests out there that are
full of traps (e.g. the Canadian government test), but it's better to see
not only is the person a good translator, but that he/she has a good grasp
of the subject matter. I know some brilliant literary translators, but they
are not so great at technical (too heavy sentences, etc.). As they say, you
wouldn't want your lawyer doing brain surgery; it works the same for

There's an unwritten law in translation that you only translate into your
mother tongue. Basically, even if you have grown up with two or three
languages, you will always have a stronger language, and, unless you're a
really stickler for keeping the languages separate, your stronger language
will influence your other languages in some way (usually stylewise). I've
met people who do translate both ways and they do have in-depth knowledge of
the other language, but you can always tell that it's not "quite" English,
for example. There have only been nine people across Canada who have passed
the government translation test (a tough test) both ways (French into
English and English into French). I know two of them. One is French, and,
yes, his English is probably very good compared with the general population,
but he still makes mistakes once in a while with prepositions and
style/idioms; French is his stronger language (I can comment, because he's
my husband!). The other one is very good in French, but stronger in English
(he's a close friend). Granted, not everyone takes the government test, so
there may be others out there, but just to say that's it's truly rare to
find someone who can translate equally well into two or more languages. So
you should be aware of that. Mind you, you probably already are since
you're a translator yourself.

Don't be too quick to pass someone over if they didn't get the terminology
"exactly right". If it's evident they understood the concepts and didn't
make any gross mistakes, you can always give them a list of terminology
specific to the company later.

I have had two types of tests for contract work. Either I've had to come
into a company and take a test on site, bringing my own dictionaries, or
I've been sent a test via e-mail or fax and given a couple of days to do it.
I think both are good ways of seeing a translator's quality, although I
prefer the ones at home, since I have all my resources there, and since it
would be contract work, you'd probably want to see the quality that a
normally churns out. The on-site tests are better if you're hiring full
time, because then you can see how the translator reacts under stress and
with limited resources. However, if you want contract translators, I'd
suggest that you send a test to them. Some translators get very nervous
during tests and do not do as well as they'd normally do. As well, many
translators do get revised (as do technical writers) for quality assurance,
BUT this should not be held against them. The final product is what counts
after all.

If it's for a full-time position, it's different. The toughest one I ever
went through was for Purkinje (medical information systems), for whom I
worked for a year. I applied just for fun, because they wanted someone who
could do computer, medical and financial/administrative translation. I had
been working as a freelancer, and really wasn't looking for full-time work,
only contracts.

Anyway, over 300 people applied and all went through a phone interview.
After that, 124 of us (we met the criteria - members of OTIAQ, at least five
years' experience and a degree in translation) were chosen to take a general
aptitude test. Then there was a three-hour translation test, which involved
translating (from French into English) five different texts (medical,
business, computer, pseudo-legal and financial) as well as revising an
English text. In the end, only three of us passed the test. Don't get me
wrong, there were a lot of good translators taking the test, but they were
perhaps good at medical, but not as good at computers, etc. Then the three
of us each went through "the interview" in French. Mine lasted two hours.
I speak French with an English accent, so I wasn't expecting much, but was
only happy to have made it that far. The other two spoke French like
natives. So I was super honest (not that I'd be anything but ;) ), and they
offered me the job. I made some ridiculous requests (including getting a
drive in winter), and in the end "had to" take the job since they accepted.
I worked there a year before deciding that I preferred contract work, but
still do work for them from time to time when their current translator is
too busy.

I should add that the person evaluating the tests was their French
translator, so that's probably why it was so difficult (translators tend to
expect more from each other when hiring than businessmen).

In addition to giving a test, you could also ask for references (a
relatively common practice). I've gotten 90% of my work just on
recommendations from clients and other translators. Good translators have
happy clients. But check out references. As with any job, there are people
that make references up or exaggerate on their résumés. When I got hired at
Purkinje, they had called up half of the people on my résumé. I found out
later from the Human Resources Department that about 30% of the applicants
had lied about their experience.

Anyway, I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, free free...

nickelltrad -at- autoroute -dot- net

-----Original Message-----
From: anonfwd -at- raycomm -dot- com <anonfwd -at- raycomm -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thursday, March 02, 2000 1:51 AM
Subject: FWD: Preparing a translator test

|I would like to know if there is any translators subscribed to the list.
|If there is any, have you been given a translation test previous to
|contract? How was you experience? Any recommendations on how to
|administer tests for prospective translators?
|I work for a company that needs to contract translators, I am a translator
|but work as a Technical Writer, so they asked me to prepare a test for the
|prospective candidates. I have never being in that situation, any help
|will be very much appreciated.
|Forwarded anonymously on request. If you want the
|original poster to see your response, you must reply
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