– contract translation services: First take

By | December 16, 2015

A few weeks back when I had written an article about translation, someone had posted a comment about the site, which is a web-based human translation service. “Gengo” (言語) means “language” in Japanese, and the company is in fact located in Tokyo.

The concept of the site is pretty straightforward: Those who need text translated can work with to satisfy their translation needs for a variety of source and target languages.

Those who become translators for Gengo can work on translations on a per-item basis, receiving a payout based on the number of words, their skill level, experience, and other factors. Their process seems pretty refined and includes a system for feedback from the clients, proofreaders to validate translations, and even a way for clients to specify preferred translators.

Looking at the rates, doing a few calculations, and research about those with experience using the site, it seems pretty difficult to make a (good) living on alone. I don’t mean this to reflect anything on the site–it seems like a great service–but just to keep prospective interpreters’ expectations from getting too high.  I’m not going to quote any per-word rates since I know they change over time (These likely are determined by supply and demand), and I am not interested in Gengo as a means to become rich. Rather, I think Gengo is a great opportunity to get one’s feet wet in translation business without any huge commitments. Any money made on this site would be a nice bonus to my existing salary, and eventually I could try out several similar sites and potentially make a reasonable living.

In order to become a Gengo translator, you first have to pass two tests, a pre-test and a translation test. The whole process is described pretty well here, and if you plan to attempt this please I highly recommend reading everything in detail, especially this link, which gives a good overview of some common mistakes (punctuation, etc.).

Yesterday I decided on taking the pre-test, which is a requisite for the translation test. The pre-test is a short multiple choice test that contains five questions, where you are required to choose the best translation for a given sentence. These are displayed in whatever target and source language you choose, assuming the pair is supported (some are apparently not). In my case I chose Japanese to English.

When you start the test, they are very adamant about not sharing the test questions with anyone, and since I want to stay on good terms with Gengo I will not be sharing any of the questions. The format of the questions was exactly as I was told it would be, however the difficulty was significantly above what I expected. The questions are *very* tricky – they are looking for people who can recognize subtle differences in spelling, word usage, tense, punctuation, readability, and other things. Also, the content was quote formal compared what to I had translated in the past.

The purpose of the test is to weed out those who will have no way of passing the main translation. This is logical since the translation test requires humans to grade it, whereas the pre-test is fully automated and you get your results after completing all five questions.

Besides reading the above links, I hadn’t done much specific preparation for the pre-test, and I failed with 3/5 questions right (4/5 is passing). Though it’s a bit disappointing, it was a real eye-opener for what they are looking for, and thinking about it more I feel satisfied just for getting 60% on this difficult test. I think this experience will even influence my own hobby translations, as I am for a higher level of quality in those.

When you take the test I would recommend taking screenshots of each question (the site doesn’t let you cut and paste), and if you fail I’d recommend going over the questions at a later point before attempting to retake the test. But please don’t share the questions with anyone. I don’t know if they give the same questions on the retake, but I would guess not.

You have to wait 72 hours between pre-test retakes, and only have three chances total. I think the translation test retake rules are a bit different, but will leave details on that for a future post.

I’m hoping to retake the pretest in a few weeks, and hopefully I can pass the translation in a few months. Good luck to anyone who makes the attempt!

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