What are the mechanics of translation and how long does the full process take? While it has transformed from a discipline practiced by individual linguists and academics, into a hi-tech industry exponentially improved by specialized technology, translation still requires highly trained, multi-lingual human minds. And that means it takes time.
A person unfamiliar with the intricacies of translation might imagine that it occurs instantly as a translator reads a document, and then that translator only needs to get the new words down on paper or typed into a computer. But that scenario doesn’t resemble reality at all.
The following is a brief outline of what occurs (and excluding extra steps required by additional services such as DTP). To begin with, the project manager reads through a document and converts it to a versatile electronic file. She or he then runs it through a translation memory (TM) system to find passages already available in the target language (from past translations); gathers relevant dictionaries, subject matter references and style guides; a suitable specialized translator then translates “from scratch”, without machine translation, all text that was not available in TM; passes it along to another pair of trained eyes for editing and proofreading; and then it runs through quality assurance procedures. When the final copy is ready, the last step is to convert it into the format the client requires. If the translator is very familiar with the subject of the document, the translation process can take about one working day – eight hours – to complete between 2,000 and 3,000 words.
Some translators say they can translate over 4,000 or 5,000 words per day if the subject matter is well known to them, CAT tools are employed, and everything goes off without a hitch. But most estimate that the comfortable average for delivering accurate translations is closer to 2,000 words per day. Time for review (around 1,800 words per day) and for the pre-processing and quality assurance has to be added – so that for a 2,000 words translation you can count around 3 working days.
Many factors influence the length of time required for translations (in addition to subject familiarity and use of CAT tools):
- Complexity of the document subject, either technically or creatively (for example, “transcreation” of advertising can require hours of linguistic exploration to achieve culturally equivalent text).
- Format of the original – is it an electronic file or is it a hard copy, and if it’s a hard copy, is it clear?
- Repetitiveness of the text.
- Level of similarity between the source and target language.
- Final destination of the text: for internal use or publication.
- Who will put the finishing touches to the final copy, the translator or the client?
Professional LSP’s can assign multiple translators to a big project, of course, but the formula for estimating translation time must then include the hours required for assembling the whole, along with extra editing to ensure fluent tone and stylistic consistency.
What have you found to be the most troublesome obstacles to translation speed, and why is there so often high pressure to complete translations quickly?