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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