How long does it take to translate a document?

Spoiler: it’s takes about as long as a piece of string…

Have you got something that needs translating, but are unsure of how much time to need to allow for the translation process?

Your translator (or agency) should be able to give you the best idea of this, as they will know from experience what their daily capacity is. Generally speaking, if you use one translator, you can expect a daily translation rate of 1500-2000 words. When you’re planning a translation project, use the daily translation rate as a rough guide only, because there are other factors at play which can prolong the life of a job. Your linguist or language service provider will be taking all of this into account when giving you your delivery estimate.

A few things to consider factoring in when you’re planning a project, which can add time on:

  • Compiling a glossary, gathering together reference materials, and getting these approved.
  • How complex is the subject matter, does it require research? Often translators will have questions about the text to make sure they get it right, so add on time to answer these.
  • Editing/Proofreading/Quality Assurance. Allow about 1 hour/1000 words for editing and proofreading, although like translation. If it’s a complex subject or a poor quality translation it might take longer. Final checks can seem a bit laborious, but they’re definitely worth doing for peace of mind.
  • File format – final files often need ‘cleaning up’ to make them look as neat as the source file. I’ve noticed this most often with PowerPoint slides. Artwork files often need reformatting too, to make sure that the new language fits on with the old design.
  • Availability – suitable translators might be working on another project when yours comes in, so either book them in advance (and stick to it), or consider that it might be a couple of days before they are available to start the project.

Of course, delays can happen due to emergencies and the unexpected, but this is rare. Nobody wants to deliver a project late, it’s actually one of a Project Manager’s main fears.

Don’t rush things ahead if you don’t need to! Translation is a form of rewriting. You probably paid a great deal of care and attention to the creation of the source document, and a good translator will do the same for the target text.

Make sure that you’re in agreement beforehand who will be responsible for each stage of the process, that way nobody will be sprung with an extra responsibility they weren’t expecting.

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