Each of us has read at least one translated book in a lifetime. But have you ever thought about how long it takes to translate one? And if it was a 200-page technical manual, would it take more or less? And what if you needed a 200-page document with simple letters to be translated asap? You probably understand that the speed would be different, but what does it depend on? Are there any ways to make a translation faster if you need – without delivering a poor-quality piece? These are the questions we are going to consider in more detail.
Translations have more about them than just word count or subject matter, and we would like to consider some factors that may influence the speed and rate that the translator or agency may charge for it.
Complexity of the text
An article on surgery and a simple business letter may have the same number of characters, but they will still be translated at a different pace as the effort involved may vary greatly. It’s not just about finding the right terms but also about keeping in mind the whole context, the target audience, and so on. What is more, the quality of the original is sometimes not so good, and the translator will have to work additionally and make the text read well.
Some language pairs are common, and you will find a lot of translators working in them: Russian and English, English and German, French and Chinese. However, if you have a document in an exotic language, the agency may need some time to find a translator and get the work from him or her on time. And, as you probably understand, things will be even more complicated if you have an exotic language pair to handle – fortunately, this does not happen very often.
Freelance translators earn their living by translating, and it is natural that they should have a flow of projects to succeed. It practically means that they will have to divide their efforts between different translations, and this may affect the speed as well because the expert’s capacity, is normally limited to 2,000 – 3,000 words a day. Otherwise, translators find out quite quickly what burnout feels like, while the customers are likely to be dissatisfied with the quality of the delivered piece.
Editing and Proofreading
If the work requires the attention of three people doing their job one after another (a translator, an editor, and a proofreader in this case), it will naturally take more time to complete. Some customers prefer doing their own proofreading, though, which speeds up the process.
Translation requirements depend a lot on the function the text will perform, and let me tell you two stories to illustrate.
Some time ago there was no machine translation available, so translators were the only people who could give hope or discourage. I remember a young man rushing to me with staring eyes to give me a letter: “Could you please read and tell me if I got the grant or not?” I did not need to translate anything – just to say Yes or No. And he got that grant indeed!
The speed was the highest in this case.
The second story is based on communication with the customer. He had a special way of referring to the quality he needed that stuck in my memory: “You know, I need a marketing translation, and the text is a very important communication instrument. In the end, I want… (he started fidgeting on the chair, and then blurted out) – you know, it’s like sex. The customer should want my services after reading my offer, like a woman that got a really special letter.
It took me a long time to produce the desired piece, but the result was worth it. And there was no need to hurry here: quality of a special kind was set as a priority, and we agreed on quite a high fee for that.
So, what average speed can you expect?
As I said earlier, a translator cannot do more than 3,000 words a day without the risk of being too tired the next day, so you can count on 2,500 words a day if you need just a translation. And this applies to a more or less standard document, with average complexity and average good quality needed.
If we are talking about a book, no professional will tell you the exact terms. This is a sensitive area that needs stylistic somersaults, research, and sometimes even the muse. And there is a subjective criterion, too: the translator should fall in love with your book – or at least like it! My experience shows that this mindset yields the highest results – and the fastest ones, too.
And still – are there any ways to get quick results?
Of course. There is time for a muse, and there is time for business. Translation agencies usually resort to the methods below to speed up the delivery:
A CAT tool is indispensable as you don’t need to read a lot of the customer’s documentation before you start translating. You can distribute the translation memory and term base to all experts engaged in the project to make their work easier and more consistent.
If high quality is the key, the editor may have a hard time reconciling the pieces delivered by different translators. However, a shared memory speeds up the process considerably: all translators have access to each other’s work in real time and can even communicate on the issues that arise. And this is the gold standard of work that good agencies adhere to.
A project may be given to a team supervised by a chief translator or editor, and this is a format that helps deliver good-quality translations.
Understanding the target audience
Customers who order just a translation, without giving additional information on the purpose of the text, are making a mistake. The tone and simplicity of the piece may sometimes be just as important as the facts, and it will be easier for the translator to do the work with a particular audience in mind. And the speed may be affected, too!
Speed and quality are the traditional pillars that every industry relies on, and the translation industry is no exception. We hope this article helped you to better understand why each agency assesses the text carefully before discussing any particular terms, and you can now make your own rough evaluation as well.