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How to become more effective
Thread poster: satranslations

satranslations
Local time: 19:33
English to German
Nov 12, 2007

I have been a freelance translator for 2 years and did some occasional translations before. Most agencies I work with now expect me to translate 2000 words a day and the deadlines are set on that basis (I translate mostly business type documents which are often quite specialised). I know that this is quite average but to be honest I am struggling with this most of the time, i.e. I only manage the deadline by working until 10 or 11 pm at night and sometimes take the work into the weekend (if the deadline is Monday). I do not mind to work the occasional late nights and weekends but it now seems that it has become more the rule than the exception and I am therefore often close to burnout. I was therefore wondering, how I could "speed up". I admit that probably part of my problem is being very perfectionist and I often spend quite a lot of time improving something which might be adequate but which I think does not sound so good. And I double check a lot (dictionaries, Google), even quite general terms, to see if there might be a better translation for something than the one I am thinking of.

I therefore wonder if I should maybe start becoming less perfectionist and if maybe my speed would improve with more experience (and thus confidence). I would therefore welcome responses from colleagues who have been in the business for many years. I would also like to know if you have any tips for working more efficiently.


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patyjs  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 13:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
Same here, Nov 12, 2007

I find myself doing many of the same things, but to be honest it's not something Í'm looking to change. Double checking and looking for better ways to say things are what makes us professionals.

As far as being efficient is concerned, I now leave highlighted anything I can't easily find a good translation for. Often by the time I've reached the end of the text I've come across the answer to something I highlighted earlier. This saves me time and frustration.

Hope this helps...

Paty


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 13:33
German to English
Continue being a perfectionist Nov 12, 2007

satranslations wrote:

I therefore wonder if I should maybe start becoming less perfectionist and if maybe my speed would improve with more experience (and thus confidence). I would therefore welcome responses from colleagues who have been in the business for many years. I would also like to know if you have any tips for working more efficiently.


Thank you for posting this. I wish more people had your sense of commitment to quality. Please don't become less of a perfectionist. And as Paty says, there are ways to speed up the process, but generally speaking, the more experienced you become the faster things will go.
Some pros will recommed using CAT tools, but I'm not a computer specialist and I've been translating full time for six years just using MS Word. This advice may seem naive, but just converting all the "unds" to "ands" helps. And if you're doing a contract, changing all the instances of Auftraggeber to client and Auftragnehmer to contractor will not only speed things up, but it will also help you avoid reversing the terms by mistake.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:33
English to Spanish
+ ...
Seconded Nov 12, 2007

I second Kim's advice completely. Continue being a perfectionist. You will not get up to speed tomorrow, it will take time. But in time and with a lot of practice you can get both speed and perfection.

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Hester Eymers  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:33
Member (2005)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Also struggling... Nov 12, 2007

...and I've decided to go for quality, not speed. I earn less, but my work gives me much more satisfaction this way. I hope to be still translating when I'm eighty, so I take care not to get overworked.

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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 19:33
Dutch to English
+ ...
Ditto Nov 12, 2007

Henry Hinds wrote:

I second Kim's advice completely. Continue being a perfectionist. You will not get up to speed tomorrow, it will take time. But in time and with a lot of practice you can get both speed and perfection.


.... except IMO there is no such thing as a perfect translation - excellent, valid, polished perhaps but never "perfect". That's what keeps us going, after all - aiming for that "perfect" translation but like anything, our translations can always be improved.

Unfortunately "satranslations", there are no short cuts.

Certain programs may assist - CAT tools, voice recognition software etc - but that's completely up to you and involve a learning curve anyhow.

Another way to increase productivity is to specialise, but that is again a time-consuming process by definition.

In time 2,000 words in one of your specialist fields will/should feel like child's play, but we all found it difficult at the outset. That said, it shouldn't be taking as long as it is, if you are working in fields you are familiar with - is that not perhaps the problem?

In the meantime, try and set yourself targets - e.g. 250 words an hour and increase this over time.

Experiment with getting a draft down first and then polishing, instead of trying for "perfection" first time round - everyone works differently, this may work for you.



[Edited at 2007-11-12 19:52]


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Albert Stufkens  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:33
Member (2008)
Dutch to English
+ ...
2000 words a day Nov 12, 2007

This expectation and requirement are too much. I can believe you working till late into the night.
The evil in this expectation is that quality will suffer from lack of time, energy and a fresh mind, and that you will be heading for disaster. As soon as there is a complaint about quality it will already threaten your translating career. You cannot have too many of it.
Your agency should realize that rush jobs will not serve their reputation either.
You should find (subtle) ways to protect yourself.
If you have to make translations with an almost routine content then I can recommend using CAT. The benefit of CAT can especially be found in that each translation enriches the data base of this tool, and the memory of it just accumulates. The probability of matches will just grow, thus aiding your productivity.
A relatively cheap and user-friendly CAT is Wordfast.
I wish you luck.

P.S.
I see that some colleagues stress the creation of glossaries. You can also do this with CAT and link those when doing translations.


[quote]satranslations wrote:

I have been a freelance translator for 2 years and did some occasional translations before. Most agencies I work with now expect me to translate 2000 words a day and the deadlines are set on that basis (

[Edited at 2007-11-12 23:00]


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Nikki Graham  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:33
Partial member (2003)
Spanish to English
Create your own glossaries Nov 12, 2007

I have created lots of word lists/glossaries so that instead of having to reach for the dictionary or Google, etc. again, I just need to look at my own word lists for past translations or ideas I have come across (for example in the KudoZ glossary). This has saved me a lot of time in the long run, but at the beginning it takes extra effort and it is time consuming. For example, I have one for adjectives and adverbs I find "challenging", verbs and nouns, linking words, besides lists of vocab in specialised fields. They are especially helpful if I am tired and finding it difficult to think. Having a good thesaurus to hand is another way of helping you to rephrase a sentence you don't like more quickly.

I often have to work late at night as I have to look after my daughter in the afternoons when she comes back from school. Obviously I am not at my best at this time, so I try to do stuff which is easy when I am least able to concentrate, tired, and leave difficult things for when everyone is at work and school and I am feeling more refreshed. Everyone manages their time differently, but knowing yourself and planning when you are going to do certain things so that the hardest tasks are done when you are at your best is a great way (for me at least) of being more effective.

And, after years of saying I wouldn't do it, I have now bought a CAT tool and recognise that this will help me to be not only more consistent with repetitive/repeat/ongoing translation work (although I am still learning how to use it), but also faster. Even if I don't have many matches, it is a more convenient means of looking up how you said something in a previous translation.


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:33
Member
English to French
Good for you, but Nov 12, 2007

If you can earn a decent living spending time improving your translations for several rounds, rereading them after a few hours to let them sink in, then good for you. The more time any translator spends on their translations, the better the translations should be, don't you think?

All this is very well and nice, but I suppose you translate for a living. It is important to reach a trade-off between quality improvements achieved and time spent (hence dosh). For instance, spending 4 hours rereading for the 2nd time your 10kword transation only to change two commas and slightly rework one sentence is USELESS in terms of productivity. To set a benchmark, work out your hourly rate and see how it compares to whatever (singing lesson, car service, minimum wage, top consulting rates...)

By now, you should have found out where your weak points lie in terms of productivity: typing? research time? search tools? knowledge of your subject? efficient use of your software/operating system? concentration? office setup? lack of self-confidence?

Once you identify these weaknesses, you can invest in whatever needed to solve the issue, be it training, therapy, software or third parties. For instance, I hear about translators hitting the 100kword/month mark by having their translations typed. Those have found their own way to improve their productivity.

There is no panacea to improve your output and it will increase slowly as you get more and more familiar with what is expected from you and which tasks you can afford to drop (such as research on some trivial terms you know, but check all the same "just to make sure", or the tenth and last reread from bottom to top of your 2000-word paper-printed translation).

As previously mentioned by my esteemed colleagues, always deliver quality, but it shouldn't be at the expense of your bottom line. Anyway, when you read your translations some years after their delivery, you very often find you would have done better now. I don't do that very often, it's depressing.

For what it's worth,
Philippe


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Aline Canino  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:33
Member (2007)
Chinese to French
+ ...
glossaries are helpful Nov 12, 2007

I agree with Nikki. Glossaries and lists are very useful. I recognized myself when I read your words. Especially when ideograms (in my case) may have different pronounciations and meanings, I can't tell you the time I spend checking and rechecking. It'is true too that with time you will work a little more faster.
When I am not completely sure of a sentence, instead of wasting my time in front of the screen, I leave it aside and read it a few hours later, most of the time it becomes clear!
As it was said, keep on being a perfectionist, no matter of productivity, it is a good thing (for me at least) to be proud and sure of your work and receiving a good feedback from clients is not unpleasant too.


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Robin Salmon  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 05:33
German to English
+ ...
A few points which occur Nov 12, 2007

As I have a tendency towards verbosity, I'll just make a few points in reply:

- I average around 2,500 words per day working from around 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., five days per week - I never work on weekends

- I use Trados and now have a translation memory of over 120,000 general terms in German and I know this definitely speeds up my work. The other day, because I had made a mistake about the deadline, I had to do 3,700 words. I finished at midnight, having got up at 5.30 a.m. Trados is fantastic if you have a lot of repetition (in a technical translation, for example, where many products have the same basic features). I once translated 9,400 words in one day, in such a situation.

- you are lucky if you are able to find a lot of work in your own specialist area. Your speed is bound to improve.

- I usually check my source and target in Trados, spellcheck my translation, print it out and read it through.

- I don't think this is the most sociable job but I survive by keeping the weekends completely clear.


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Manuel Aburto M
Nicaragua
Local time: 13:33
English to Spanish
+ ...
Just Keep it Going! Nov 13, 2007

patyjs wrote:

I find myself doing many of the same things, but to be honest it's not something Í'm looking to change. Double checking and looking for better ways to say things are what makes us professionals.


Paty
ç

I agree with Paty and the rest of you. I think all of us, to some extent, share the same opinion.

Nikki is right. Sometimes, it helps a lot having a glossary for a particular client or a specific working area. In my case, there is this client that most of the time sends me medical translations. To be more specific surgical instruments docs, so I created a glossary for this sort of translations and now I save around 20-30% of the time I would need to search the term(s).

Double checking a translation doesn´t mean wasting your time.

Keep it going.

Regards,

Manuel

PS:It's kind of silly but I would like to take this opportunity to thank Nikki. She advised me to join Proz 2 years ago when I was searching a term for a document (Hydraulic or something like that).

[Edited at 2007-11-13 01:24]


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Elena Robles Sanjuan  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:33
English to Spanish
Have you tried to shift towards a different area of expertise? Nov 13, 2007

I fully agree with those who suggest glossaries, CAT tools and maintaining a perfectionist attitude.

However, I find that sometimes we aim at specialising more and more in the area we feel good at as translators, but that doesn´t necessarily mean it´s the field that makes us feel most comfortable.

I was a full-time IT translator when I started working on environmental projects, mainly through NGOs. I had enough knowledge of the field thanks to many experiences that had nothing to do with translation, but doing it for these organisations gave me the self-confidence I needed to start translating.

Today, not only do I feel that I have achieved plenty of competence in less time than it took with IT texts, but I also find it easier to perform better.

I wonder if something like that would also help you...

Good luck!


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:33
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
"Time trials" Nov 13, 2007

I agree with all of the above advice, except that 2,000 words per day is too much. It's a pretty standard requirement in the industry. However, I don't like to do too much more than that for long stretches, because besides the mental strain (if it's a difficult text), I have problems with my hands/wrists if I do.

When I was studying for my master's in translation at MIIS, our requirement for passing our exams was 300 words per hour. To get up to this speed, we took timed practice exams. Find some texts that are about the length you want to be able to translate in an hour and every once in a while translate and time yourself. This really helps and after a while you will get up to the speed you want without sacrificing quality.


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Ana Cuesta  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:33
Member
English to Spanish
Deadlines are not cast in stone Nov 13, 2007

Leaving aside the fact that 2000 words per day is a pretty reasonable target to achieve, you may find in the meantime that negotiating deadlines is easier than you think (much easier than negotiating rates) After all, most of the time we are not idle when a job offer arrives but have to fit it in around previous commitments. And how could the person offering you the job tell if that is the case or not anyway? So try asking for an extra day or two (you can phrase it in an open way if in fear of loosing the job) and see what happens, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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