Of deadlines and quality

quality translationLet’s discuss how long a high quality translation takes…
I think each translator has at some point come across a client who needed a translation reeeeally urgently! For example – “I’ll wait here, you work with such texts every day don’t you, you probably have some templates. 15 minutes enough time?” Sounds familiar? But if a translation of a typical document, for example, a certificate, is a simple job for an experienced translator, the real “fun” begins when large projects and impossible deadlines are involved!

Rumor has it, one Finnish translator only had 3 (!!!) weeks to translate a new, 480 pages long JK Rowling novel! And this happened despite the fact that in Finland, like everywhere else in the world, the accepted standard translation volume is around 2,000 words per day or 8 pages with 1,800 characters including spaces.

Let’s say that this person volunteers for the important mission of text editing… But even in that case, he would need to gather a team of experienced literary translators, make a decision as to the translation of names, ensure that the characters hadn’t changed their names by the end of the novel, and edit the text stylistics so that the writing manner remained unchanged from chapter to chapter. And this is despite the fact that the widely accepted text editing norm is 16 pages a day – only twice as quick as the average translation speed.
This raises the issue of translators’ work norms. What norms of translation speed and quality exist in different countries?

Almost all sources agree on the amount: 6-8 standard pages per day (1 page=1,800 characters including spaces), in cases of complex specialized subject (medical documents, academic articles, etc.) – the amount of pages can be shortened to 5-7. In the majority of European countries, as well as the United States, the volume of translation work is calculated based on words, not characters. I.e. the standard volume for American translators is 2,000 words per day.
The situation is different with exotic languages, e.g. Chinese or Japanese. They’re becoming increasingly popular in Russia and European countries, but the norms still vary from translator to translator. The approximate numbers make up some 1,000-2,000 characters per working day, depending on the subject, taking into account that a single translation page for these languages contains 330 signs.

Regarding international translation standards, they don’t standardize an aspect like working speed per se (standard EN 15038, ASTM F2575-06). According to the data collected by the UN, the translation norm starts at 5 pages per day. In addition to this, the time required for proofreading and editing must be added.
Speed can be increased, of course, by various translation memory programs and automated translation tools which, once again, doesn’t guarantee the quality of the end result.

Clients’ position is fair: time is, as they say, money. However, in this case, they should understand that deadlines that are too tight can have an influence of the quality. And vice versa: the more time a professional has to translate, the better quality he can produce. Most translators are, after all, perfectionists who can spend hours looking for perfect lexical units, phrases, constructions… After all, despite the abundance of dictionaries and web resources, all the languages have a huge amount of untranslatable units that require a particular approach.

Translators have this joke formula: “speed, quality, cheapness”, where two aspects can be kept in and the third replaced with an antonym. I wouldn’t want to give such a sad description to a translator’s work, because each translator can find their golden ratio and work out the appropriate working style.