Translation Timing: ‘So how long will it take?’

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Translation Timing: So how long will it take?

It’s the question that every Project Manager expects to hear, sometimes several times a day. We have the documents, or the audio files, or the videos. We’ve prepared the perfect quotation and we have a particular linguist (or linguists!) in mind for this project… Then the big question – how long will it take?

It’s a good question, but a difficult one to answer!

Where a translator is working from text content (say Word, PDF or Excel documents), then most translators can handle up to around 1,200 source words of material each day. Of course, different linguists work at different speeds, but this kind of volume is realistic, since it’s based on qualified, professional translators producing good quality work and checking it carefully before submission. Of course there are multiple factors that affect this, not least the content of the material. Obviously if the material is technical, or specialised, or requires research to check, for example legal or medical terminology, then this can impact on how long it takes to complete translations.

The total overall volume of material can play a part too. Sometimes we may receive really large documents that are literally hundreds of pages long. In these situations, it’s always really important to check to see if the client has a glossary of terms or any other relevant background information that should be referenced. Often such high-volume assignments have to be split between multiple linguists. This can affect the consistency of translation, since different linguists will inevitably favour certain turns of phrase, so if there are particular linguistic preferences, it’s important to establish that ‘from the off’. One also has to be super, super clear about who will be undertaking which pages. The advantage of splitting material, is of course, speed. Ten translators could turn around over ten thousand words a day, whereas it could take one translator up-to around ten days. But remember, if ten translators work on it, then one project manager will need to merge everything together, to create one document.

In other situations, we receive audio recordings. A fast transcriptionist can complete up to around 1 hour of (same language) transcription in a day. Or if the recording is in a foreign language (French, or German for example) and the client requires an English transcript only, then the maximum one person could complete would be up to around half an hour of material in a day. We call this a ‘direct translation’ and it is one of our most popular, in demand requests.

And finally, we are frequently asked to turn around subtitling assignments at super-human speed. We quite frequently receive short videos from our clients and more often than not, they require subtitles within 48 hours! The maximum volume we would expect a subtitler to complete, would be up to 10-15 minutes in any 24-hour period. This depends very much on the abilities of the subtitler, however. Typically we would receive a video in English and our clients would require subtitles in foreign languages. These can be into almost any language, but most frequently we produce subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.

Ultimately, we only promise what we are sure we can deliver within a given time-frame. When someone asks ‘How long will it take?’ we check logistics carefully, before giving an honest, measured response.

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