How Fast Can You Translate?

December 31st, 2012

Ah, we translation professionals get no respect, do we?

how fast can you translate

In fact, deciding on the rate at which you can work is often the most challenging aspect for translators who are just starting out in their own business. Those of us who began our careers working for an established company have that experience to draw on when setting rates and pace, but the question remains vexing for all of us, believe me – how fast can you translate?

Scope of Work

The first thing to know about the pace of document translation is that there is never, ever a fixed or standard answer to this. It is always – always! – dependent on the individual project. Is it a simple text, well within your experience? Or a difficult project. requiring extra research? Is it a modern text in a vernacular you are familiar with, or something old, in a dialect you’re only academically familiar with? Is the subject matter straightforward or within your experience, or is it esoteric, containing concepts and perhaps terms you’ve not seen before?

All of these issues will have a direct impact on your speed, and must be considered before offering any quote on the work. Believe me, you will make the mistake of underestimating the scope of work for a project only once. The late nights and stressed-out hours spent trying to get the work done by the deadline will teach you well.

Law of Averages

Still, there are some useful guidelines that newcomers to the translation services game can use to start off. Most business translation pros can manage about 500 words an hour on texts that aren’t what we’d consider complicated, which means about 4000-5000 words on a typical work day. On the other hand, difficult texts can reduce that rate to about 100 words an hour, or just 1000 words a day.

These are optimistic averages, in my experience. I usually assume about 3000 words per day. This pace gives me the slack I’ll need for the occasional problem or slowdown, and it’s also a maintainable pace. You can certainly manage 5000 words a day – but believe me, after several days of this you’ll be a bit burned out. Best to avoid your low-end or your high-end, and stick to the middle of your capabilities. This way you can keep it up over a long period of time.

The most important thing, however, is to find your own comfortable pace. Don’t let others set your pace, or your work quality will suffer, and then no one wins.

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