Sample translations

Last week I received an e-mail from a fellow translator with a question that is common to many beginner translators:

I have noticed some of the agencies request a sample from the applicant; however, so far I have only done work translating manuals for one large client. These manuals contain sensitive information that I am not permitted to share. What is your experience in sharing translation samples? Any ideas on how to handle this?

Well, I thought I would answer it here so that is may be useful to more of you.

Firstly, I have not sent sample translations to ANY client in years. I want to make this very clear, because however sensitive the information is, in my opinion – and most serious translation agencies agree -, the only one who has the right to disclose a translated piece is the client who paid for it. As a translator, I treat all of my clients’ translations as confidential, unless they are in public domain, e.g. a website. In fact, I hold the translations for six months to one year and then delete it, keeping only my translation memories. I do not even share translations within different offices of the same company. For example, I have a large translation client with offices in several countries; sometimes a project manager from one country will come to me and ask if I have done a certain type of translation before. If I have done that type of translation for a different office, I let them know who the project manager was and tell them to contact that project manager directly; otherwise, they can send me a test on that topic.

I will write a post about confidentiality and protecting yourself as a translator, but, in short, my policy is, if you have not paid directly for a translation, then I cannot share it with you.

I understand that this still leaves my reader with the problem of being asked for sample translations and what to do about it. Well, I can suggest two things:

1 – Prepare your own samples – choose texts randomly on the Internet in your areas of expertise, make sure that there are no translations already available online in your language pair for them, and translate them. When a translation agency or client asks you for a sample, make sure you tell them that you are not permitted to disclose former clients’ materials due to confidentiality issues, and offer to share a sample that you have prepared on that topic. Preparing the samples may be time consuming, but they will come in handy if you get these requests often.

2 – Politely refuse – explain, as nicely and politely as you can, that you are not at liberty to disclose clients’ materials, but that you are happy to take a small unpaid test translation to prove your ability to handle that topic. This shows both your willingness to meet the client halfway and your professionalism maintaining confidentiality. If the client or translation agency refuses, then you can still offer to create a sample for them. I doubt that they will have a problem with this, but if they do, run from this client. In the same way that the client is looking for a professional to do a job for them, you want to work with professionals too. Do not do work for agencies with dodgy practices or disregard for confidentiality, you may make a little bit of money from them (if they pay), but it will not be worth the risk for your reputation.

Well, this is my take on sample translations. I hope this helps my reader and other beginner translators out there. How have you people handled this type of request in the past?

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Comments ( 6 )

      • Jenifer Lloyd says:

        I am often asked for samples of my work, and if I cannot refer to something in the public domain, then I suggest doing a sample translation of 300-500 words of a text chosen by the prospective client. Cleints seem to appreciate my professionalism and my respect for the confidentiality of my cleints.

      • admin says:

        Exactly Jenifer, when you tell them that you cannot disclose samples due to confidentiality, they know that you will handle their files confidentially too. This is invaluable in our business! Thanks for stopping by :)

      • Simona says:

        Hello!
        I’d like to know what do you think about the free of charge translation tests being offered as samples of translation.
        Thank youvery much for your precius tips!

      • admin says:

        Hi Simona,

        Thanks for your comment. I have taken many of those and unfortunately I think they are a necessary evil, because a translator may look really good on paper, but not be that good. I personally don’t like them and don’t like how some agencies apply them, so I have some rules. For example, I only take a test if I can agree on a rate with the agency (it is a waste of time to take a test then find out that they pay USD 0.02 per word). Also, I don’t do more than 300 words for free; if they want a longer translation than that, then they should take the risk and pay me for it. So as long as you set some clear boundaries, I believe that for agencies they are a very valid assessment tool. What do you think? Karen

      • Simona says:

        Thank you very much, Karen! I think you’ve just shared some very useful and good sense advise here.
        I stopped taking free tests about two years ago as they were not very effective from my point of view: little or no amount of work after all. It’s also true that I didn’t select that agencies previously in order to understand very well what kind of agencies they are. However, as I’d like to get some new clients I decided to run the risk and take some tests for certain agencies I would be glad to work with.
        For the last test I’ve taken I failed to agree on a rate before the test submission… However, I’m still waiting for their feedback and hope it will be possible to agree on a reasonable rate.
        Do you think that the content of this kind of free of charge work as tests usually are can be disclosed as sample translations for other clients, too? I would like to know what do you think about that. Thank you!

      • admin says:

        Hi Simona,

        I honestly have never done that. When you take a test for a translation agency, you are not yet under a confidentiality agreement with them, so from a legal standpoint, there is nothing preventing you from sharing the test piece, unless there is a confidentiality notice in their e-mail (which is unusual).
        However, if you want to work with this agency and have a good relationship with them, I believe it would be good practice to ask. If you are very clear about only sharing this with a potential client and not relating it to them in any way, etc. Then, I don’t see why they would deny it.
        I would prefer to have my own samples ready anyway, because then I can control the source content and choose something that I really believe showcases my skills, but if you are pressed for time I would recommend asking the agency. I hope this is helpful :) Good luck!

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