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Realistic pricing & timeline for a dictionary project
Thread poster: Pauliina Kauppila

Pauliina Kauppila  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:35
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English to Finnish
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May 24, 2009

Hello all,

I've just undertaken a fairly large (37,000 translation items) dictionary project. I have not done this type of work before, so I was finding it difficult it to put a price on it and to estimate how long it will take. While to work itself in very interesting, two days into the job I have a sinking feeling that I have gravely underpriced it & seriously underestimated how long it will take.

The client seems to be expecting that I translate in the region of 1000 translation items (individual senses or meanings) a day; I am struggling to achieve half of this. (This perhaps isn't helped by the fact the language pair is English/Finnish -- Finnish is totally different from Indo-European languages and is generally more laborious to translate into than many other languages.)

I was wondering if any of you have experience from working on dictionary projects and what kind of pricing/schedule one might realistically apply this type of work. Any experiences/advice would be much appreciated.


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 03:35
English to Hungarian
+ ...
tough May 25, 2009

Pauliina Kauppila wrote:

two days into the job I have a sinking feeling that I have gravely underpriced it & seriously underestimated how long it will take.

The client seems to be expecting that I translate in the region of 1000 translation items (individual senses or meanings) a day; I am struggling to achieve half of this. (This perhaps isn't helped by the fact the language pair is English/Finnish -- Finnish is totally different from Indo-European languages and is generally more laborious to translate into than many other languages.)



I don't want to be rude but I can't help myself: it sounds like you took a job and made a commitment regarding the deadline and payment. You are bound by that commitment and it would be pretty unprofessional to go back and say you want the terms changed, especially with regards to payment. You should have come here to ask about time scales and pricing before taking the job...
Anyway, just out of curiosity: how many words/characters are the items on average? I'd imagine about 5-10 words, which would make your daily dose 5-10,000 words... too much by most translator's standards. I'd think it's quite a bit of work if you really want to do it right and find just the right word for each meaning. As a rule, I find everything that is not running text harder/slower to translate because it has less filler.
If the thing has sample sentences to each meaning, that would inflate the word count and make doing 1000 in a day on average for long periods nigh impossible.


As a Hungarian, I see where you're going with the Finnish/English language pair but it's beside the point. You've always known this will be a Finnish job like - I imagine - all your jobs are.

Anyway, it seems like you have probably taken on more than you can handle - maybe more than anyone can handle. You may just have to bite the bullet: go back to the client, apologize and let them know you bit off more than you can chew.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:35
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Experience with a smaller job May 25, 2009

Indeed I understand what you mean. I once did this project for about 2000 terms and it took me approx. 4 days, so 500 terms per day sounds reasonable to me.

I was lucky because all terms were about the same topic, and I could grab the text of the Spanish version of ISO and EN standards, which helped a lot. In most cases I had no option but to buy a copy of the standards (instead of visiting our regulator body's library in Madrid and spend the day there) in order to research the terminology. I also had to get a specialised dictionary, which has been good all in all because it has helped me in other projects and taught me a lot of new things.

500 terms per day sounds like a good achievement. I doubt you can translate 1000 words every day with a certain degree of accuracy...

Is it all about the same topic?


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Pauliina Kauppila  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:35
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Not just one topic May 25, 2009

Hi Tomás,

Thanks a lot for your reply. No, it is most definitely not all on the same topic -- this is a general dictionary. So, unfortunately this does not make things go any faster...

The client claimed that other language translators have completed the task in 4-5 weeks. I said initially that it might take me 6-7 weeks to translate the 37,000 items but at the rate I am going, even this seems wildly over-optimistic. (7 weeks would require the completion of roughly 1000 items a day if you're working a 5-day week.)

Any other experiences out there?


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
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Possible, but with what quality? May 25, 2009

I honestly think that 5 weeks is still too short even in other languages. If we are dealing with more than one topic, it would take an expert in each of the topics to translate with some accuracy. If the customer wants something that is "quick and dirty" it is their option, but I would not accept it if I was in your position.

Let's do some basic math:
- 37,000 words in 5 weeks = 7,400 words per week

Assuming that you work intensely, 10 hours a day, 6 days a week = 60 working hours per week
- 7,400 words / 3,600 minutes = 2 entries per minute

Yes, some entries (bread, dog, cat) will take 2 seconds, but as soon as you encounter anything slightly more difficult and worth checking, the 30 seconds per entry will fly!! Some entries can easily take you half an hour (even with basic checking).

So all in all I don't thing it is realistic to expect you to translate 2 entries per minute as an average... unless the dictionary is a very simple and basic one.

[Edited at 2009-05-25 09:09 GMT]


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Per Magnus  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:35
English to Norwegian
Can you get out of it? May 25, 2009

I once took on a dictionary project. Very soon I found out that I was in way over my head and thankfully my client understood the problem and relived me of the job. Translating dictionaries are teamwork of a group of experienced academics. It should not be outsourced to a single freelancer. If you try to do a decent job, it will take you at least five times as long as an ordinary translation project.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:35
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English to Spanish
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I agree... May 25, 2009

Per Magnus wrote:
I once took on a dictionary project. Very soon I found out that I was in way over my head and thankfully my client understood the problem and relived me of the job. Translating dictionaries are teamwork of a group of experienced academics. It should not be outsourced to a single freelancer. If you try to do a decent job, it will take you at least five times as long as an ordinary translation project.


Yes, actually I agree... It's either more time and a higher compensation (so that you can hire a couple of people to help), or calling it off if you can.

[Edited at 2009-05-25 09:41 GMT]


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Pauliina Kauppila  Identity Verified
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What about the price? May 25, 2009

Thank you very much for your comments -- they're very helpful. I might put a couple more days' work into this to try and really get an accurate picture of how many translation items a day I could possibly achieve.

IF in the end of this I decide to go ahead with the task, what do you think would be a realistic price per each translation item (sense)? My current quote comes to just under EUR 0.20 per sense, which is 1.5-2 times more than I would normally ask per word in my language pair (EN>FI).

But, as I am now very aware of, this is very different from ordinary translation work. ;(


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:35
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English to Spanish
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I would calculate it per hour May 25, 2009

Pauliina Kauppila wrote:
IF in the end of this I decide to go ahead with the task, what do you think would be a realistic price per each translation item (sense)? My current quote comes to just under EUR 0.20 per sense, which is 1.5-2 times more than I would normally ask per word in my language pair (EN>FI).


It is very hard to say, really. In my case, I had agreed a number of hours which was based on an average time per entry, considering that some entries would be very easy and some very hard, with a whole range of difficulties in-between. Of course the job took longer than agreed, but it was my responsibility to make sure that the entries were correct (it was a very specific thing, really). I only charged the agreed time.

Personally I would calculate 500 entries per day as a maximum (i.e. 1 minute per entry in an 8-hour day; you can stretch the day if necessary to reach the 500 entries/day) and would charge 8 hours of your regular hourly rate for each 500 entries. So not a word-based thing really.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:35
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I also stepped into it May 25, 2009

Pauliina Kauppila wrote:
I've just undertaken a fairly large (37,000 translation items) dictionary project. ... two days into the job I have a sinking feeling that I have gravely underpriced it & seriously underestimated how long it will take.


Yep, been there. Even for a general dictionary, even if you only need to provide translations for simple words, I'd say the length of the job in word count terms should be [number of words] x 5 or even x 10.

In my case, I also did a general dictionary, via an agency who would not provide me with even the most basic information about the dictionary. In my case, the only information I had about the dictionary was the file name, which made me think that the dictionary was not for publication but for internal use in computational linguistics. I was wrong, and the dictionary was eventually printed and published, and woe be to anyone using it.

The agency seemed to think that doing a dictionary is easy ("just keep a paper dictionary open next to the keyboard") and that other translators managed to do it rather quickly. My dictionary was reviewed by a second person, and based on the low number of corrections suggested I would guess that the reviewer was under immense time pressure as well.

I think the client wanted at least one translation for every sense in the source language, so it wasn't necessary to write synonyms. If there were more than one possible translation, the brief was to choose the most common one, and move on to the next line. I could not do this in good faith, so in many cases where I had to write two words (because of two completely different sense), I added a single word in brackets next to it, for context. There wasn't enough time for more than that.

Even in my two languages, which are very similar on the syntactic level, there are certain differences that make translating a dictionary impossible or impractical. For example, in English, "ballroom" in "ballroom dancing" was indicated as an adjective, but in my language, it would be a noun in that position. I tried to explain the problem to the client, but he just responded "if it says adjective, then write an adjective". So the "ballroom" in ballroom dancing became "ballroomish" (well, it's equivalent in my language), which would not have been helpful to dictionary users. This principle of adjectivising nouns applied to about 30% of the entire dictionary.

I was wondering if any of you have experience from working on dictionary projects and what kind of pricing/schedule one might realistically apply this type of work. Any experiences/advice would be much appreciated.


Well, after two days, I basically told the client that I had underestimated the work (based also on his estimates and the information he gave me about what other translators had experienced) and that I would have to bow out. He renegotiated with me to give me slightly more time. In the end, the client gave me permission to subcontract the work as long as I'm responsible for the final product. So I got 20 other translators working at low rates, and we managed to make the client's deadline. I was amazed at how many translators I was able to find who were willing to work for peanuts, and more than half of them did very, very good work!

As I recall, I made a nett loss on the job. The only advantage was that there wasn't much that cheap translators could do wrong (except spelling errors), so reviewing the translations was fast and simple.

The biggest problems I had with my subcontractees were that some of them did not follow the instructions, or assumed that the reader is clever enough to figure out what they mean. To give you a made-up example, you can't write "come (-ing)" and just expect a non-English person to know that "comeing" is not a word. Or can you? Some translators gave variant spellings, written in a way that takes long to delete, so for example "prioriti{z/s}e" takes longer to clean up than "prioritise/ize" or "prioritise/prioritize". Some translators have no concept of speed (they just slog onward, it seems) and they seem unaware that certain actions on their part would impact on your reviewing speed. Grrrr...

I tried to make things simpler for the translators. For example, I found that a lot of time was wasted repositioning the cursor in the correct place on every line. So I wrote a little program (in AutoIt scripting language) that repositioned the cursor to the correct position, with a simple shortcut key.

[added]: I checked and I did not write an AutoIt script, but instead recorded a macro in MS Word. I also created flash tutorials for the subcontracting translators. I also colour coded the MS Word files for translators, and I ensured that the language setting for the space where terms are to be typed, was set to the target language. I did all these things in the hope that it would increase quality and speed.



[Edited at 2009-05-25 13:09 GMT]


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:35
Member
English to Hungarian
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1,000 words per day sounds way too much May 25, 2009

Pauliina Kauppila wrote:

Hello all,

I've just undertaken a fairly large (37,000 translation items) dictionary project. I have not done this type of work before, so I was finding it difficult it to put a price on it and to estimate how long it will take. While to work itself in very interesting, two days into the job I have a sinking feeling that I have gravely underpriced it & seriously underestimated how long it will take.

The client seems to be expecting that I translate in the region of 1000 translation items (individual senses or meanings) a day; I am struggling to achieve half of this. (This perhaps isn't helped by the fact the language pair is English/Finnish -- Finnish is totally different from Indo-European languages and is generally more laborious to translate into than many other languages.)

I was wondering if any of you have experience from working on dictionary projects and what kind of pricing/schedule one might realistically apply this type of work. Any experiences/advice would be much appreciated.


Hi Pauliina,

I have been working on a dictionary (English-Hungarian dictionary of physics) for over 10 years. I have built it from scratch, and it contains over 58,000 terms today. I estimate that the total amount of time I have spent with it is over 8,000 working hours.

Of course, building a dictionary from scratch is much-much more time consuming than translating a dictionary. But even if I take a look at the checking phase, that I am currently working on, I feel that even the translation of 500 terms per day is very much. 1,000 sounds definitely unrealistic – but a lot depends on the conditions. It would be useful if you could give a short sample – say, a list of 20 words – so that we can make a better picture.

During these 10 years, I have seen several translated dictionaries, and the results range from horrible to good.

Horrible: The original dictionary is already a multilingual dictionary of a specific field – thus noun or adjective + noun structures are overrepresented; verb structures with prepositions are seriously underrepresented. There are difficult terms completely out of context without any explanations – so the translator went wrong more often than it would be acceptable. Also, the original dictionary purported to be really exhaustive, so there are some very rarely used terms (that cannot be considered well established, and thus should not be included in a dictionary), or plainly nonsense terms (grammatically correct combinations of words that do not make technical sense). The translator had no choice but translate them – IOW, all errors of the original are propagated into the translated dictionary, and a fair amount is added.

Good: The original dictionary is a monolingual dictionary, or rather lexicon, so you get the definitions of the terms. The original work is of very high standard. The definition is also translated, so if it does not correspond to the reality in the target-language country, then it is made clear. This is particularly important for legal dictionaries etc., where the standard terms correspond to the items of the legal system of the given country – where differences can be profound.

In the latter case you can speak of translating a dictionary (lexicon). In the previous case, the conscientious translator needs to check the meaning (and often even the validity of the source-language term), and find the most appropriate translation. Or rather translations. Very often one translation is not enough for a dictionary, as the reader expects a certain level of completeness. For example, if you have the word "blue", and you need to translate it into Russian, you have two words, one that corresponds to "light blue" and the other to "dark blue". The representation of reality is different in the two languages – and a good dictionary must appropriately take care of that. (That is why the dictionary should be between two languages: that way it is possible to highlight and comment how reality is sliced differently in the two cases. If you have three or more languages the fine details will almost certainly be blurred.) That is where dictionaries differ profoundly from glossaries used in translation projects to ensure consistency (where one term = one translation is very often preferred).

As for involving many people: it is absolutely necessary, but may be enough in the checking phase. Still, the lack of context makes things quite different from a normal translation project.

I have heard that the usual delay in dictionary projects is... about 200% compared to the initially set deadline. Once again, that is for dictionaries written from scratch, but I am quite sure it is very common to underestimate the amount of work in any similar project.

Without knowing the precise terms in your dictionary, here is a short list of what can be quite time consuming:

  • Terms you don't know. Out of 37,000 terms there will be certain that are new to you. You have to look up the meaning, and identify the acceptable translations, possibly in other dictionaries, and then trim the possibilities so that you list a sensible number of equivalents.
  • Terms that you know more or less but that are in a specialized field. You will need to look them up in specialized dictionaries/glossaries on the net, and this can be extremely time consuming. As a very rough estimate of time, measure the amount of time you need to answer a GBK question (or even a KudoZ question). Of course, you will not need to write down the whole answer -- but the amount of research time will be more or less the same.
  • Terms that do not have a one-to-one equivalent in the target language. So, depending on the requirements, you may need to find an approximate term and add some explanation. For example, gerrymander.
  • Normal terms with multiple translations. Listing all of them and then trimming and rearranging the list in the best order can take a lot of time.
  • Terms that seem problematic. You may need to contact the PM about such terms -- otherwise the quality will be so seriously compromised that the dictionary is probably not worth publishing.

In short, measure your speed carefully. Do not be in a hurry: correcting mistakes later is quite time consuming – and you are likely to skip many of them. You look at the translation and you won't always remember what you looked up when you found it, so you will sometimes easily convince yourself that it is a good translation. Take your time to produce the best result in the first go – even then you will have a lot of work in the checking phase. And if you find that you cannot make more than 500 words per day (say, 8 hours, i.e., about 1 minute per term), don't be surprised. Raise questions as soon as they show up. Ask for the questions raised by other translators and the answers – they may save you quite a lot of time. And if the expected speed is unrealistic, make sure to discuss this with the outsourcer. 37,000 words is a lot – you need to find quick answers to your questions. And if your positions are irreconcilable, consider backing out – otherwise the final result may be catastrophic.

Attila


[Módosítva: 2009-05-25 11:11 GMT]


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Pauliina Kauppila  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:35
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A little sample May 25, 2009

Thank you very much for your thorough advice, Attila.

Here's just a little sample of the dictionary. As you can see, the source includes definitions and examples of usage for the English words. However, I am instructed NOT to translate the definitions or include any examples for Finnish. This is quite tricky as often you cannot convey the full meaning and usage of a word byt just entering it alone. (Not to mention the grammatical issues.)

Sample:
--------

away (adverb)

1 to or at a distance from the person speaking or the person or thing spoken about: He lives three miles away (from the town); Go away!; Take it away!
2 in the opposite direction: She turned away so that he would not see her tears.
3 (gradually) into nothing: The noise died away.
4 continuously: They worked away until dark.
5 (of a football match etc) not on the home ground: The team is playing away this weekend; (also adjective) an away match.

awe (noun)
wonder and fear: The child looked in awe at the king.
♦ (verb)
to fill with awe: He was awed by his new school.

awe-inspiring, awesome (adjective)
causing awe: The waterfall was awe-inspiring; an awesome sight.

awestruck (adjective)
filled with awe: awestruck by the mountains.

awful (adjective)
1 very great: an awful rush.
2 very bad: This book is awful; an awful experience.
3 severe: an awful headache.

awfully (adverb)
very: awfully silly.

awfulness (noun)


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:35
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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Yes, this was mine too May 25, 2009

Pauliina Kauppila wrote:
away (adverb)

1 to or at a distance from the person speaking or the person or thing spoken about: He lives three miles away (from the town); Go away!; Take it away!
2 in the opposite direction: She turned away so that he would not see her tears.
3 (gradually) into nothing: The noise died away.
4 continuously: They worked away until dark.
5 (of a football match etc) not on the home ground: The team is playing away this weekend; (also adjective) an away match.


Yep, I did this exact same one. I can't tell if we had the same client, though.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:35
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Some of my speed tactics May 25, 2009

Some of my tactics are beginning to return to my memory now...

1 to or at a distance from the person speaking or the person or thing spoken about: He lives three miles away (from the town); Go away!; Take it away!

If example sentences were given, what I did (to save time) was to translate the example sentence in my head, and then write the word that was used in that sentence. So in the above case, I would not even read the definition, but skip straight to the example sentences. In the above case, I would have to write two words, because the word in my language for "away" in "He lives three miles away" is different from the word used in "Go away!".

4 continuously: They worked away until dark.

Where the term was defined by a synonym, as above, I often translated the synonym. In this case, the sense of "away" does not even exist in my own language, but you can't leave it out, so I ended up giving the literal translation of "continuously" even though the translation of the example sentence in my head would not yield any translation for "away".

awe (noun)
wonder and fear: The child looked in awe at the king.
awe (verb)
to fill with awe: He was awed by his new school.


In my language, "to be awed" is translated "to stand in awe", so at best it would be a verb phrase, but my client wanted a verb for a verb, so I was forced to take the noun form and verbify it, and ignore both the definition and the example sentence in the process. It is impossible in my language to do all three things, so I did what the client wanted, following a process of elimination.


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Pauliina Kauppila  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:35
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English to Finnish
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This job is getting less appealing by the minute... May 25, 2009

Thanks a lot for your comments, Samuel.

The better picture I get of the work involved, the less inclined I feel to continue working on this project... Particularly with the current compensation and timeline.


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