In a previous post I stressed the importance of test translations – short texts you give a translator so they can prove their skill to you. But who should verify the quality of these translations? Certainly not you – if you were that competent in the target language, you probably wouldn’t need a translator. So, who?

My first recommendation is: don’t ask an agency or another translator to review test translations. First, because it’s disrespectful: you’re throwing into their face that you’re employing someone else. Second, because – since they are your translator’s competitors – it’s in their best interest to say the test translation is bad. This way, they can offer their services as an alternative and make money out of you. “The piece you sent us is decent, but we believe we could do much better” is a pretty common answer, and why shouldn’t it be? If the second translator or the agency can convince you to work with them, they earn a new client; if they can’t, they’re still getting paid for reviewing the test. It’s a win-win situation for them, but not for you.

Guaranteed, many people out there are honest and would call a good translation good, but you should never rely on someone to act against their interest in order to do you a favor. So, I would recommend avoiding asking translation agencies and freelance translators to review test translations.

My best advice is to ask a native speaker of the target language to review the translation. You don’t need a specialist: the vast majority of your future readers will not be specialists either. You need someone who is representative of your target audience and will read the translation with the same eyes. The best choice would be one of your fans abroad: someone who read your work in the original language, but is also a native speaker of the target language. They will be able to tell if the translation is good, and merciless in critiquing it. Of course, it would be even better if they had translation experience themselves.

When possible, don’t give the reviewer the original text. Many people, especially those who are not translators, will often consider the slightest deviation from the original text as an unforgivable sin, even if said change improves readability and even if it’s actually required by the target language’s rules. Italian, for example, has longer words and sentences than English, and it doesn’t generally use the Oxford comma, so breaking up sentences is often required in order not to end up with unreadable paragraphs; but an overzealous reviewer, confronting the translation with the original text, might consider this a great wrongdoing. Of course, if a person you know to be competent asked you to see the original text, you should give it to them. Chances are they had good reasons for asking.

Test translations are a great way to scree out bad translators and find the one you need to reach an entirely new public. Use them without fear.


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