The Source of It All: Unlocking Translation Productivity

Ciklopea 8 years ago 5 min read

In this article we take a look at the most common opportunities and challenges to translation productivity.

Translation productivity
Translation productivity

A word is, inter alia, the most common unit of measurement in the language industry and in this respect it is understood as a string of characters between two spaces. A translator’s productivity is expressed by the number of words he or she is able to translate per day. This figure usually clocks at 2000 – 2500 words, although it can vary depending on the circumstances, such as type, complexity or purpose of the materials. Some of the most common opportunities and challenges to translation productivity include:

Clarity of the Source Material

The linguistic quality of the source content is the first element of the equation explaining not only translation productivity, but translation quality as well. If the language of the source materials is vague or in any other way compromised, the translator is likely to spend more time trying to decipher the original meaning than to adapt it to the target language. A simple string of a word or two bereft of any context may sometimes take hours to translate properly, affecting the standard quota of 2000-2500 words per day.

Important as it is, the quality of source material is one of the elements a translator cannot control – it is squarely on the hands of the clients and their content producers and the only remedy is to always ask for as much additional information as possible.

The More References, the Merrier

It should always be remembered that our job is easier the deeper our understanding of the meaning, style and intent of the source materials is. Studying reference files and/or consulting translated materials in other familiar languages may appear more time consuming than it really is – it actually takes less time and energy than trying to translate the untranslatable and it always helps us eventually deliver linguistic products of higher quality in less time.

Field of Expertise

No translator can translate all types of materials. Some people may do demanding transcreation jobs swiftly and easily and be hopeless at legal or medical translations and vice versa – despite being excellent linguists. This is because professional translation is a combination of linguistic and expert knowledge. If language is our first love, the field of expertise is our second and finding the one we can do best is as important as finding our language pair. Needless to say, if we are working in the field we know and understand, we also work faster and the translation quality is higher.


We have all encountered at least one instance of technology being more of a daunting obstacle than a tool designed to help us produce more translated materials in less time. Badly aligned CAT files, poor PDF scans, endless Excel files and unedited translation memories are only some of the issues a professional translator is likely to experience.

Once again, technology is one of the elements out of translator’s control, but using the software and the workflow we are most comfortable working with is, and it can and does speed up our translation projects.

For example, I have always found it easier (and faster) to type in Notepad or Word and copy the translated materials to the Excel file when Excel was the required software – all via keyboard shortcuts, of course.


All textual work is solitary by default.

While some translators prefer to work in utter silence, I can’t imagine working without Mozart or Miles Davis blasting from my headphones because it’s the kind of music that helps me stay focused and relaxed at the same time – and we all know about the importance (and challenges) of staying focused and relaxed in our line of work.

Discover the little things than can keep you motivated while you are working – be it silence, music, coffee or chewing gums – and use them as much as you can. Finding the joy in work is the final and the most important element of any work because it glues together everything and contributes to higher productivity as much as anything else.

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