Dec 5, 2008


In an online discussion of how to "break through the endless Catch-22 of gaining experience", Japanese to English translator Rod Walters had an excellent suggestion. He noted that real evidence of the ability to translate well is generally more compelling than "experience". Given the miserable work I have seen from some translators with decades of experience, I would have to agree with this.

Rod suggests preparing a portfolio of translations in one's chosen fields and hawking it relentlessly with prospects, showing it on your web site, in a distributable PDF and as hardcopy. While this is a rather "obvious" suggestion, I'll bet that only a small minority have gone to the trouble of putting together such a portfolio. It is an excellent alternative to the foolish practice of doing free test translations.


  1. What a fabulous idea. So obvious, yet not very common. I will definitely share this with the students at Kent.

  2. Great suggestion. We are pretty much opposed to test translations, but provide previous translations in all our language pairs to people who request we do translation exams. We have nicely prepared documents for this in Word and PDF format, but we haven't put them on our site yet.

    Just discovered your blog through Jill's -- I like it and will add it to our blogroll.

  3. Yes, I really liked Rod's idea of putting the sample translations all together in a portfolio. In a sense that's what I did ages ago on my ProZ profile recycling various test translations and one I got scammed on, but this way is much more accessible and versatile.
    The other nice thing about the "package" like this is that one can include a translator's profile (not that I do not say CV!), recommendations and copies of key documents such as certificates verifying status as a court-sworn translator or other specialist qualifications. All in a nicely organized, bookmarked PDF with a table of contents if you will.
    I haven't done that in this form yet for marketing our services, but I did do a confidential business plan that included all of the above, as well as the usual risk analyses, a survey of marketing strategies, etc. a few years ago, and it worked miracles in convincing the banks that we were a serious business worth supporting. (Anyone interested in an article I wrote on business plans for translators can look here.

  4. When I started out in the U.S. many years ago, coming from Japan, I had a portfolio with samples, letters of recommendations etc. What I found quickly was that nobody was interested in it. Perhaps times have changed.

    I would like to mention one argument for translation "tests": During my years in Japan we hired a number of translators, and it was not uncommon to get 200 or more applications after advertising our translator positions in Germany. We preferred to see how the shortlisted candidates handled the same text rather than look at a variety of translation samples. That way we could select a text typical for our kind of work – and it was easier to compare the results.

  5. @Michael: The scenario you describe makes perfect sense. Despite an earlier rant and this post, I have nothing against translation tests per se. What I object to are unpaid translation tests. I'm sure you know all the usual arguments, some of which I agree with, other which I find ludicrous. However, in my personal situation, it strikes me as a rude imposition when an agency makes an unsolicited approach to me because they want the special skills I have to offer, they can see plentiful evidence that I am at least serious about the business, they know that I work long hours to satisfy my existing clientele at very good rates, and then they want me to spend time doing a text for free for work that I actually don't need. I am willing to treat these people seriously and consider their project and do my best work for them, but they must treat me seriously as well and pay for my effort like all my other clients do. In some cases I'll take a different approach with direct clients, but most of these understand the value of a service provider's time, so the issue seldom comes up, and if I really like the company I may even make the rare offer.
    I understood Rod's suggestion as an alternative to unpaid tests, which should almost never be done. Of course there are outsourcers who will reject this. They can take a hike as far as I'm concerned. For each of these, however, there may be others who will find something intriguing and offer an opportunity.
    And given the number of times that I've been asked to provide a copy of my Bestallungsurkunde (certification as a court-sworn translator in Bavaria), it would make sense for me to have it ready in a PDF portfolio or as a scanned link off a web page or whatever. Ditto for certain other documents. I would say to consider what you've had to provide repetitively for what groups and organize your materials accordingly. I don't think one size will ever fit all.

  6. Kevin, thanks again for posting this.

    Michael, what your testing approach fails to take into account is that translators are capable of learning and development.

    If you reject a translator because they got the wrong 'tone' or whatever for your test piece, that ignores the real possibility that they could get the 'tone' exactly right if only they knew what was required. I've done tests for Japanese clients and hated it for all the usual reasons, plus the reason that I don't know what they want and they don't tell me in advance. I can do a plausible imitation of Hunter S Thompson if that is required. I can do turgid IR or humane IR blurb if only I know what the client wants.

    A portfolio at least shows that some variety can be produced.

    (I really, really need to follow my own proposal soon...)

  7. Okay, you've shamed me into action.

    With my limited Interweb skills, I've put together some samples that should be comprehensive enough to ward off requests for tests.

    If you can see Japanese text on your computers, I'd be very pleased to hear any feedback or suggestions you might have



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