Human translation is generally a factor of quality — but quality requires time. This principle is not always understood, but I would like to shed light on it to improve satisfaction for both parties, clients and translators.
For example, here is the kind of email I can receive on a usual morning.
Please find attached a small document of 3000 words to translate. We would be grateful if you could send your translation TODAY BEFORE 11 AM.
Now’s my turn.
I am not upset by your previous email. Why? Because probably no one explained to you the time it takes to deliver a high-quality translation. No worries! Simply read on.
How fast can a translator translate?
Speed is a question all translation students worry about. When we are at school, we have a whole week to prepare a 300-word translation, so we are usually confronted to speed issues only in the “real world’’. We will start by analyzing the case of a single freelance translator.
I can only speak for myself, but having discussed with other translators, we usually estimate our translation speed at 2000 words a day. This estimation is valid for general texts displayed in regular formats (such as Microsoft Word), and without the use of a translation memory. For specialized content, the speed can easily go down to 1500 or even 1000 words a day because of the particular research needed to get the right terms and look into less familiar notions.
Speed can increase with the proper tools
Various tools are available for translators, and computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, such as SDL Trados Studio and MemoQ, allow to gain a lot of speed. If we translate a document that was partially translated before, our speed will increase proportionally. A translation memory can also help retrieve useful former translations of some concepts. A termbase (database including source language terms and their selected translation) can also help to translate faster.
But CAT tools do not always do the trick: if we have to translate a whole new document with no reference to the content of the translation memory or the termbase, we’re back to our original speed.
Time for revision is crucial
When the « first » translation is done, the day is not over! There has to be time to review the translation. This step is as important as the main translation process. We will first verify if all the information was accurately translated, if nothing is missing or was added (comparative review). Then, ideally, we’ll let the text for a while. Personally, that’s when I check my emails, eat lunch or work on another project. When I have enough time, I even like to forget the text for the whole night and get back to it the next morning. Then I read it with a fresh look and review only the translated text (proofreading).
Most of the time, a second translator/editor will be in charge of the review, which lengthens a little the whole process but always increases quality.
In a hurry? Split the work between several translators
Agencies can deliver huge translations in no time because of the possibility to split the work between several translators. This practice is common but there’s a risk regarding consistency: ideally, a single editor should review all the translations and standardize the terms and the layout. I’ve seen this step skipped in a few projects I worked on for agencies and I’m glad I was not held responsible for the final result…
So, how fast can a translation be delivered?
You can roughly estimate the number of days it will take by dividing your total number of words by 2000. But do not take this result for granted! The best way to know how fast it can be done is to ask your translator for a quote that includes a suggested delivery date. We often work in teams on large projects, which allows us to deliver the files faster. If you’re working on a big project and know that you will need it translated in one or more languages, do not forget to plan enough time for translation in your timeline. You’ll reduce stress for everyone, including yourself, and will be sure you don’t sacrifice quality for speed.
Suggested related article: How much does a translation cost?