Time, Translation, and Editors


A simply worded, single page copy can be translated by machine and lightly edited in a very short time. A children’s book with simple lexemes and basic grammar translated within a common language pair also requires little in the way of advanced translation services.

However, a dissertation, textbook, procedure manual, or an entire series of documents that runs in the hundreds, perhaps thousands of pages is an entirely different situation.

Determinants of Translation Time

There are a number of factors that go into determining the amount of time a particular translation project will take. This includes the:

Number of pages: Obviously the longer the document or documents the more time it will take to translate them. That said, a single page of complex text could take longer to translate than 10 pages of simple text. The point remains, however, that if you have an enormous translation project, you should plan accordingly for the time it will take to translate it.

Density of text: Don’t underestimate the importance of text density, but not for the reasons you are likely thinking about.  While a page of dense text will usually take longer to translate than a page that is nearly blank, there are a number of other issues to be considered. Source text almost always is expanded or contracted when translated based on the relationship between the source and target language. For example, a typical English to Japanese translation could expand up to 60 percent. When there is enough “white space” in the source text, the time spent reformatting the pages is often reduced.

Technicality of text: As a standard, the more complex the text, the more time it takes to translate. However, some technical manuals with exacting language that is frequent and redundant can be translated much more quickly than texts with incredibly varied lexical elements.

Language Pair: Some language pairs are easier to translate than others. The more similar the languages are to each other the easier and quicker the translation. For example, a translation from Spanish to Portuguese or Italian is often much less involved than a translation from Hindi to Dutch or English to Japanese.

Translation memory: When projects are large or have elements that continue over time, a translation memory database can save countless hours in translation. This is especially true for highly technical documents with lexical redundancy.

Cleanliness of source text: Professional translators can work with any text, but if the source text has a lot of errors it will take a lot longer to translate. Even when the text is technically “error free”, there are issues that can increase the translation time. For example, inconsistent terminology, frequent use of idioms or other culturally-dependent text, and complex sentence structure can greatly increase the translation process.

Formatting: It is estimated that up to half of a translator’s time can be spent reformatting a document when there is considerable expansion or contraction of text, and the time often increases if the formatting involves complications with charts or graphics. Technical formatting is also of such great importance that time must be spent to ensure it is perfect.

Number of translators: Many times we think about a single translator sitting at a desk with a number of books strewn about while an old incandescent bulb hangs from overhead. These days are long gone. Today, most assignments are divided up among several translators working on networked computers. This not only lessens the number of pages each translator has to work on, but allows translators the ability to bounce ideas off of each other. It also allows for translation to take place around the clock with many translation services. When many translators are assigned to a project, post-editing is important to ensure there is consistency in the flow of the document and the translation of words and concepts.

Post-Editing: The level of post-editing can range from a light service that checks for major gaffes and lexical errors to the full and complete edit that verifies your translation and reads as if a native-level writer had prepared the document in the target language.

Consideration When Choosing Your Translator

When choosing your translator, there are several questions you want to ask based on the level of accuracy and quality you require. Obviously, the more skilled the translator, the more money you can expect to pay for their services.

The main considerations relate to the translator’s familiarity with the source language and target language. If you do not need a perfected document, you may opt for a machine translation checked by a bilingual reader.

However, if you are expecting a high degree of accuracy, you want a translator that has a native-level fluency in both languages. In addition to the translator’s linguistic abilities, you want to know about their knowledge of the source and target cultures. Many serious translation errors and faux pas arise because the translation did not account for cultural nuances.

When dealing with technical texts, you want to know about your translator’s field-specific experience and familiarity. There are so many lexemes, signs, symbols, and formatting issues that are associated with technical documents, you want to ensure your translator is able to handle them with skill and expertise.

Post-editing Options

Post-editing generally takes place when a document has been primarily translated by a machine and you want to verify the accuracy of the translation or increase the native-sound of the text. Editing options range from simple grammar and culture checks to complete native-level human translation services.

The post-editing process is technically optional, but you forego it at your own peril. The time and expense of post-editing a document are far less than damage control from improperly translated documents, especially if the documents impact your legal status, bottom line, or the health and welfare of yourself or another.

This post is written by Robert Stitt, a content writer with Ulatus.

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