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Worried about my translation speed
Thread poster: Deschant
Deschant
Local time: 21:36
Apr 12, 2007

I'm quite new to the translation business (after some years doing occassional translations I started freelancing seriously last summer) and, after having read several threads and polls about the translation speed of the prozians, I'm starting to be slightly worried. Not that I'm too slow - on the contrary. If I'm working on a text which involves research and whose source language is German, I can sustain a speed of 400-500 words per hour. If it's a text in Italian on a subject I know well, I can reach 700 or 800 words per hour. When I'm fully booked, I can translate 3500-4000 words daily without much effort and without having to work 16 hours a day (however I cannot sustain this rhythm for more than 3-4 days in a row). Now, that seems to be a very high translation speed, specially for a newbie.

I've wondered whether my speed compromises quality, but the agencies I work with seem satisfied, they keep giving me jobs, and the only time I was warned about my quality being slightly below standard was in a day in which, despite being sick, I insisted on meeting a deadline.

I've always seemed to have a "fast" brain (not necessarily a smart one), specially for verbal activities: my reading speed is well above average, when I had to write something for my studies or my other jobs (an essay or an article, for example), I could do it generally much more quicker than my colleagues and still not compromise quality.

Do you have any suggestions in regard to my problem? Should I limit myself to 200-300 words per hour and find ways of improving my translations? Should I get an experienced translator to proofread my translations (for a fee, of course)? Or is it just that everybody has different skills and I'm just a "fast" translator?

Many thanks for your time,

Eva


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Nicole Martin
Local time: 16:36
German to English
It's not necessarily a problem Apr 12, 2007

If you notice yourself that the quality of your translations could be better and you feel rushed, or if clients comment on poor quality, then yes, you should slow down, read carefully and think hard about what you're translating.

But if you aren't having any of those problems, you could just be someone who translates quickly. I personally tend to translate quickly too. I first noticed it back in my translation classes, when my homework and tests went faster than other students'.

When I worked as a project manager at a translation company, we were told count on an average of 2,000 words a day from a translator. Yet there were instances where I was pressed into translating something, and I found I could double that number. And that was not because I was extremely familiar with the material, I was just able to "process" it quickly.

I now work at a car company, mostly translating vehicle repair manuals. I was a little slower at first because I was not used to the technical style. Now I can translate extremely quickly. I get into the "rhythmn" of the manuals, with the same kinds of vocabularly and patterns in sentences. When we're really under pressure to get a book out quickly, I've been known to do 1,000 words an hour, possibly a tiny little bit more. I know it sounds ridiculous, or that I MUST be sacrificing quality, but I'm not. It's just the type of text lends itself to working quickly. But like you, I can't sustain that pace forever. Usually I need to slow down and relax a little after a few days of working like that.

Even when I'm not working on repair manuals though, I can still work quickly, and I don't think there's anything negative about that (unless we're having a slow week and I finish all my work early on...then I have to spend the rest of the time reading forum posts on ProZ...so unfair). I think if you're not sacrificing quality or your well-being, then you should look at it as a blessing.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:36
English to Spanish
+ ...
No Problem Apr 12, 2007

From what I can see, you have no problem at all. In fact, if you're doing that well now, when you really get into it more you'll do even better.

In my own case I have found that I make less mistakes and produce better quality when under pressure because my concentration is better.

I can also put in 16 hour days, but find that sustaining that for a significant amount of time is quite tiring.

Just stop worrying...


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Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 22:36
Swedish to English
+ ...
I wouldn't worry... Apr 12, 2007

...especially as your clients seem happy. I also read very quickly and have been known translate 4000 words in an afternoon on a subject I know and enjoy. However, I would never promise to work at this speed and generally say that I will do 2000 - 2500 words per day.

If I get a job done well before a deadline I simply put it to one side and will give it an extra proofreading before delivery - being able to let the translation "rest" only improves quality, probably more than trying to translate more slowly and meeting a deadline "spot on". Also, my day's work has to include administration, talking to people on the phone (and looking at Proz) and lots of other things that don't necessarily raise my average number of words per hour!

Look on being able to produce good quality translations fast as a business advantage - don't drop your rates, just use it as an opportunity to earn more money and don't let it worry you. There will come a day when you sit down at a job that just refuses to go quickly, no matter what you do (I've got one of those today, which is why I've given up and am writing this instead!).


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Christine Schmit  Identity Verified
Luxembourg
German to French
+ ...
same here Apr 12, 2007

Hi Eva,

I can totally relate to what you write, your post sounds like I could have written it myself! I started freelancing one year ago and sometimes I am surprised at my own speed, especially for German to French. I can do 800 words in an hour too and if it's a subject I know well, law for example, I do 4000 words in a day without a problem, not every day of course. I also tend to read and write very fast.
I agree with Henry, I can also work better under pressure, I am unable to concentrate on a translation when I know that the deadline is in three weeks.
I also agree with Claire, it is so much better to be able to finish a text early, let it rest and look at it the next day with fresh eyes. It's always good to have some extra time in case something unforseen happens.
You really shouldn't worry, on the contrary, consider it an advantage, ours is a profession where time is money, so the faster you are the more you can earn or the more free time you get to spend doing something else!
I really think that speed depends on the person, being fast is certainly not a problem, that is just the way you work. I think it's important to keep your natural rhythm.

Best regards,

Christine


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:36
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
You're doing fine, Eva Apr 12, 2007

emoreda wrote:

I'm quite new to the translation business (after some years doing occassional translations I started freelancing seriously last summer) and, after having read several threads and polls about the translation speed of the prozians, I'm starting to be slightly worried. Not that I'm too slow - on the contrary. If I'm working on a text which involves research and whose source language is German, I can sustain a speed of 400-500 words per hour. If it's a text in Italian on a subject I know well, I can reach 700 or 800 words per hour. When I'm fully booked, I can translate 3500-4000 words daily without much effort and without having to work 16 hours a day (however I cannot sustain this rhythm for more than 3-4 days in a row). Now, that seems to be a very high translation speed, specially for a newbie.

I've wondered whether my speed compromises quality, but the agencies I work with seem satisfied, they keep giving me jobs, and the only time I was warned about my quality being slightly below standard was in a day in which, despite being sick, I insisted on meeting a deadline.

I've always seemed to have a "fast" brain (not necessarily a smart one), specially for verbal activities: my reading speed is well above average, when I had to write something for my studies or my other jobs (an essay or an article, for example), I could do it generally much more quicker than my colleagues and still not compromise quality.

Do you have any suggestions in regard to my problem? Should I limit myself to 200-300 words per hour and find ways of improving my translations? Should I get an experienced translator to proofread my translations (for a fee, of course)? Or is it just that everybody has different skills and I'm just a "fast" translator?

Many thanks for your time,

Eva


Don't worry about it Eva, you're doing fine. As you can see from the posts, many translators work quickly without losing quality. I'm the same. With a familiar subject and straightforward files I can translate 4000 or even 5000 words a day. Then if possible I look at my work again the next day and edit it thoroughly. When it's finished early, I have time to do something else!
Best wishes,
Jenny.


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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 16:36
Spanish to English
+ ...
all in the same boat it seems Apr 12, 2007

Hi Eva,
I suspect you, like myself, were probably one of those people who finished exams very quickly and then sat waiting for someone else to get up and leave first, because you were sure you must have done it wrong if you were so fast.

After years of making myself nuts, I finally realized that I just read extremely fast, and not at the expense of the content. I can't count the amount of times someone has said to me "Did you REALLY read it?". It's quite frustrating.

My point (and I think I have one...) is, trust yourself. A little paranoia is ok, if it means you are extra careful in your proofreading and editing. Having said that, don't let it slow you down.


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:36
Dutch to English
+ ...
Some additional points ... Apr 12, 2007

Hi Eva,

All I can really add to what others have written is the following:

1. Make sure you take regular breaks. I mean this not only during the working day, but also on regular occasions. It's fine to be able to achieve this output but it does catch up with you over time.

I now take a long weekend every 6-8 weeks and fly off somewhere for 4 days (usually alone) just to relax and come back feeling ready to go flat out again. I'm a very black and white person, so it's either flat out or nothing. This forces me to get away from the PC and see there's more to life than law, law, law.

2. Be careful of the precedent you set. If you consistently push out 4,000 words plus a day for a particular client, they will expect it. Make it clear you can do it but that it's your total capacity, not the capacity reserved for them!

I set a weekly limit for myself in advance, once I've reached it, that's it. Example: I'm flying to London next Thursday afternoon and booked till that morning. Regardless of who wants what now, I can't take more. Be firm about that.

3. Go back over old translations - after a few weeks - and do a "post-mortem". Ask yourself whether anything you find lacking at that stage is due to speed. Clients coming back aren't always the best indicator. Both parties can fall into a rut (a comfort zone) and it's up to you to keep yourself sharp.

I achieve similar speeds to you but it's important to have these safeguards in place. Take it from an "old-timer"

Good luck
Debs

[Edited at 2007-04-12 18:07]


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Rahi Moosavi  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 16:36
Member (2004)
Farsi (Persian) to English
+ ...
So true Apr 13, 2007

So true for me these words. I recall sleeping at the national univ. entrance exam because I ended up finishing 45 minutes earlier and they wouldn't let anyone out before the full time.

Just to add to this, I always watch 3 or 4 TV channels at the same time going back and forth between them, not loosing anything and following everything.

I am translating at least 3000 words per day (sometimes up to 6000 words) with no pressure and no quality compromise. Clients are very well satisfied with my work and keep sending more. The only thing I did was that I added Friday to my weekends meaning that I have a 3 day weekend.


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Corza
Mexico
Local time: 15:36
English to Spanish
"It is the question that keeps us alive..." (Movie "The Matrix", did you see it?) Apr 13, 2007

I was glad to read your note in Proz, since there are very few people with the courage to question themselves. I believe the moment we stop questioning our translation skills, we are dead to translation, dead to any improvement, dead to self-realization.

I wouldn't trust agencies' criteria regarding quality. I have seen them accept and pay for awful translations. I even wonder whether they bother to read the translations they receive.

My advice to you is: never lose you capacity to ask questions; explore your ideas and creativity when you translate 200-300 words/hour; get a good translator or better still a good friend to proofread, if not the entire translation, at least those paragraphs that you may think are confusing; get a yellow marker and mark all those expressions and words you feel may need further work; read your translation as if you were another person who did not know anything about the subject, or better still, read it to someone who doesn't know anything about the topic and check his understanding of the subject.

I want to share with you the best piece of advice I ever received. I do believe that it applies both to translating and to living: Explore, experiment and feel.


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Richard Benham  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:36
German to English
+ ...
Get feedback Apr 14, 2007

I think you should probably try to get some feedback. Some agents automatically send work for revisions; ask for comments. I recently provided some feedback for a newbie translator without charging any extra for it, explaining some of my changes and giving some tips on where s/he seemed to be going wrong in a systematic kind of way....

If the feedback is positive, you can feel justified; if not, you have something to work on.


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Deschant
Local time: 21:36
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Apr 16, 2007

Wow, thanks for all your excellent replies! I am glad to know that there are other "fast translators" out there, and that a high translation speed is not always synonimous with lack of quality.

As some of you have suggested, I guess one of the dangers of being fast is setting precedents. However, whenever I apply to an agency and I am asked about my output, I never state 4,000 words per day, rather 3,000, which is closer to my actual capacity if I take into account the time devoted to market my services, writing invoices, dealing with paperwork...

As for quality - thanks for the tip about letting translations rest (I think it was Clare who suggested it). I usually prefer to hand in translations as soon as I've finished with them, even if there's still plenty of time till the deadline. But I think that, in the future, providen that the deadline is far enough, I will try to follow this advice. I do also come back to translations I delivered weeks or months ago, and find that they are not as perfect as they should be, but I'm still quite new to the bussiness and learning a lot in every translation, so I guess it's quite normal.

The tip about asking agencies for feedback is a good one (some already provide me with it, at least occassionally) and getting someone else to proofread my translations (or some of them) is definitively a very good idea.


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Daniele Martoglio  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:36
Polish to Italian
+ ...
Don't forget the "periferals" (arms, fingers, wrists) and boredom! Apr 16, 2007

Some words on it:

Speed and IQ

I'm able to translate much more faster then "normal" translator, and i'd like to say the truth that all are politycally "not saying": the speed of translation is connected with IQ. Apart from very good knowledge of languages and of our "job", the speed of translation it's a good way to measure translator's IQ. Translators with normal IQ translate at a maximum speed of 250-300, translators with high IQ (more then 120) translate at a maximum speed of 400-500, and translators with very high IQ (more then 140) translate at a maximum speed of 800-1000.

To be "more intelligent" doesn't mean to be "better", just to be "different". So it's very stupid to hide this fact! The people in this thread which say that "translate faster" are more intelligent than normal level. It's a fact. Not a problem, nor a reason to glory. Simply a fact.

I'm personally very sensitive to subjecy "intelligence", because i'm alone and i'm looking for the woman of my life, and her intelligence it's a basic element to be able to say "i want be with you". So in my "casting for a wife" i discovered that fast translators and symultaneous interpreters are OK to have this role in my life (unfortunately the intelligence is just one element, not the only one...).

The periferals of our brain

In last month i began to have problem with my right arm, probably a "Golfer's Elbow". I never was in a Golf field in my life, but the mouse and the keyboard are able to be very very destructive for our health... Also pianists risk to have serious problems connected with pain in arms and finger.

So we must remember that not olny the brain is important, but also the "periferals": arms, fingers, and the whole body.. It's very important, as someone wrote, to have pause, to walk a little in this pause, to exercice our muscles.. Typewriting it's a very NOT natural activity, not so good for our "hardware"...

Boredom

At the beginning this job is so fascinating... all it's NEW. After some time the boredom could be a big problem, and we can become "slow" because we can lost the "will" to work.. Now for example i try to work (translation) max 5 hours a day, having "break" with other activity (contact with clients, accounting...) and i also make the "long weekend", fri-sat-sun, or sat-sun-mon.

We, as translator, are a complex machine. Our brain (2 parts: inteligence and will), our periferals, our computer, internet... We must remember that ALL the machine as to work. If a part of it doesn't work, all it's stopped...

hugs

Daniele



[Edited at 2007-04-16 23:54]


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xxxForest
French to German
Do you use Translation Memory Systems? Apr 17, 2007

In my view, this is an important question. To those who manage to translate 400-500 words per hour or more, do you use Translation Memory Systems for those translations or usually not? Your answers could make it easier to evaluate your translation speed.

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Carolin Haase  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:36
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Boredom makes me slow! Apr 19, 2007

Daniele Martoglio wrote:


Boredom

At the beginning this job is so fascinating... all it's NEW. After some time the boredom could be a big problem, and we can become "slow" because we can lost the "will" to work..



[Edited at 2007-04-16 23:54]


Yes, I can definitley agree with that! Although I haven't been in the business for too long, I've been working a LOT in the last couple of months and I noticed that motivation to work and translation speed are definitely linked. I think I need to take a week off...

@emoreda: I also think you're doing very well - as long as there are no complaints about quality and you don't feel too much pressure, as long as you have fun - you're doing absolutely fine.

All the best,

Carolin


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