How many words per day?

Posted 11 October 2016

One topic most freelance translators just starting up their business devote some thought and calculations to, is this: How many words am I supposed to translate per day?

Well, it is a tricky question – and it doesn’t really have an answer! We all have different working approaches, different speciality fields, different software etc. This makes it very difficult to generalize. You will soon notice yourself; two texts of equal length will take you different long to translate.

The main factors involved in deciding how many words you can translate per hour or per day are:
Text format – When you are working from hardcopies it takes longer than when you are working on electronic texts. It will also go quicker if you are working in a program you are very familiar with as opposed to a program you have just bought and are unfamiliar with.

Available dictionaries – Looking up words you don’t know will go quick if your dictionaries are good. If you have to search for words – be it on the Internet or at the library – you will loose a lot of time.
Use of CAT-tools – If you are using a CAT-tool, the translation process will go quicker, especially if you are working on a repetitive text.

Speciality topic – The more familiar you are with the topic, the quicker the translating will go.
Style of the source text – Another factor is the style the author of the source text has used. If you compare two texts within the same topic you might find that one text will consist of floating and poetic sentences whilst the other will have short and hard sentences.

Typing speed – How quick can you type? This is also one factor determining how many words per day you get through.

Motivation – When you are having a bad day and not feeling too good, it will also be very difficult to get your work done. The more motivated and focused you are, the quicker you can translate.
Then you also have to calculate the time it will take you to edit and proofread your work. The translating job does not consist of just translating – you also have to check and double check your work!
The average translator will tell you that he or she can translate 100 words per hour working on a complicated text where he or she is not familiar with the topic and needs to do a lot of research. On the other hand the same translator will tell you he or she can do 500 words per hour working on an easy text in his or her speciality field.

When working on a project requiring extra effort an average translator will do up to 4000 – 6000 words per day. But this workload cannot be maintained over longer periods of time. An average translator will do between 2000 and 3000 words per day, working at a comfortable speed and also having time to revise and proofread his or her work properly.

Consider the following two translations: Translation 1 is a PowerPoint presentation consisting of 1200 words and the text is an environmental report. Translation 2 is a software manual of 3000 words written in Word. If you asked several translators to perform these two translations and then asked how long each translation took them, you would not get the same answer from any of them.

I would use about six hours for the first job and about seven hours for the second job, that is including editing and proofreading, not counting breaks. Even if translation 2 has over double the amount of words, I do not need much more time on that than the first translation. I am not very familiar with the topic environment. I would have to spend relatively much time researching the terminology and looking up words. In addition, I am not very familiar with PowerPoint either. Even though this is a relatively easy program, I am bound to run into a problem or two. A software manual, on the other hand, is right up my street. This is a subject I don’t need to do a lot of research on, as I am quite familiar with the terminology used. In addition Word would not cause me any problems.

So basically you have to set your own standards. To do this you can time yourself. See how much you can translate of different types of texts in one hour. This way you get an idea of how much you can expect to do in a day of a certain type of text. You learn as you go – and soon you will be able to predict very accurately how long it will take you to translate any given text.

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