Speed of Professional Human Translation: How Much Time Do We Have for Quality?
In almost every survey that we have ever conducted in our efforts to learn more about the expectations of our clients, turnaround time is featured among the top 3 challenges that our clients want to see resolved.
This is perfectly reasonable because translation/localization is usually one of the last pieces of the complex puzzle of launching a product on a new market or completing a regulatory procedure and any delays in delivery may incur additional costs and generate further complications.
In other words, time is one of the top problems in the language industry. In this article, we take a look at the reasons behind this and the measures (or attitudes) that can be taken to resolve this issue.
All good things take time
If you are reading this article, we believe we do not need to emphasize that professional translations for commercial and regulatory purposes are performed by professional human linguists.
The mere fact that linguists are human can mean many things, and one of these is that they need more time than machines to complete their tasks.
Of course, the entire language industry is built around the constantly developing technology that enables translators to perform more work in less time, but technology cannot really lift the eternal boundaries of language and communication that linguists try to open using their knowledge, skills and intuition.
To cut the long story short, different languages work differently – while it may be easy to coin a new phrase or a term in one language, it may take hours to find (or develop) a corresponding term in another language that would cover the entire spectrum of the source meaning, style and tone.
These types of “blank spots” or “freezes” are not exclusively limited to transcreation and adaptation of marketing materials and ads: legal, medical and technical terms can be equally difficult, as every professional translator from English or German to any Slavic language knows too well.
Translator’s main and only task is to convey the meaning, style and tone of the source material, taking into account the material’s purpose, format and target audiences. This is a high level intellectual process that cannot be and shouldn’t be expected to be performed in a heartbeat – if we are looking for the best possible results.
How much time?
To answer this question, we need to take a look at how translations are calculated and charged: in the modern language industry, segmented source words are the basic unit of measurement.
Thanks to the highly developed translation technology, we may calculate new words, fuzzy matches and repetitions within a document or against a translation memory. Segmented new words are, as the name suggests, the words and phrases that appear in segments for the first time and that need to be translated from scratch.
Our professional experience shows that the optimum daily rate of translation clocks at around 2500 new words. To illustrate, a standard page in Word and similar word processors contains approximately 500 words, so we may say that standard translator’s daily output is about 5 pages in Word, not including the repetitions.
Depending on the material, repetitions and the existing digital translation assets, the actual output can be higher – our rate includes only the new segments.
Of course, this rate is meaningless in other types of language tasks (review, transcreation, quality assurance) and in those scenarios we may use only hourly rates.
How to accelerate?
The cure, as far as the language professionals are concerned, is, once again, in the translation process. The process has been developed as a perfect mix of translation technology and human knowledge and power, with one of the aims being the speed of delivery without it affecting the quality.
Depending on the scenario, the wordcount and the desired deadline, more translators can be assigned on a single task, although it should be noted that this approach also has its downsides – more translators can also mean more personal styles and therefore more coordination, but it is not impossible.
On the client’s side, however, there are some things that should be taken into consideration:
- It has been shown that the client’s input (or, at least, the client’s willingness to provide more information on specific project requirements and terminology) at the early stages of translation/localization project can speed up the process dramatically because the translators do not need to spend time researching for terms or sending queries during the project.
- Translation/localization should be understood more for what it really is – an integral part of a product/service launch and spreading of business operations, than a formality to be fixed quickly right after the product completion and right before its launch – or, in short, client should allocate enough time for translation/localization.
Direction vs. speed
In life, as well as in business, direction is often more important than speed. The first question is what do you want to achieve with localization of your product, service or delivery, not how fast can you get it localized. If you want to achieve quality and appropriate adaptation in accordance with the target culture and market, that will always take some time, even with all the digital and technological wizardry available.