Translation speed before CAT
Thread poster: Samuel Murray

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:43
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Nov 15, 2013

Hello everyone

I'd like to share a quote from an old newsletter with you about the speed of translation the days before CAT tools, and ask you (if you're that old) whether your speed with CAT is much faster than without CAT.

...I then start typing the translation on the computer, looking at the Russian original while typing in English. If I am very familiar with the subject matter and do not run into more problem terms, I can probably type the first draft of a 1000-word Russian article within an hour. Usually about one-third of the time is spent actually typing, the rest "thinking". ... I carefully check the translation draft against the Russian original for accuracy and make any necessary changes. This generally takes me about an hour for every ... 2000-4000 Russian words.
- Dr "Woolman", March 1993

The author uses the word "draft" but from the whole text of the original article I gather that this does not mean "rough draft", but that which precedes the final quick proofreading.

Now, I can't do more than 300 words per hour without CAT, even if I type 2/3 of the time instead of 1/3 of the time. But with CAT I can do 600 words per hour, if I'm familiar with the subject material, and if there are no fuzzy matches, or 1000 words per hour if I'm allowed to use machine translation, with no fuzzy matches. Yet this translator thought that it was pretty standard to do 1000 words per hour in the days before CAT.

What are your experiences?



neilmac  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
More haste... Nov 15, 2013

With or without CAT, 300 words an hour seems rather sluggish. I can churn out at least twice that, and even more if the subject area is familiar. Yesterday I did one such text containing over 800 words.

I do find that CAT ( I use WF Classic, but only its most basic functions) helps me translate faster, but that's not my main reason for sticking with it. I like it because it makes me work in chunks/segments, top down. Before using WF, I was all over the place and might be as likely to begin at the end of the text rather than the begining. I find it easier to go over my texts segment by segment, and WF obliges me to do so.


Vincenzo Di Maso  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:43
Member (2009)
English to Italian
+ ...
CAT tools Nov 15, 2013

I had to convert to CAT tool religion. I was quite reluctant for many reasons, i.e. training, hassle with segments, errors, habit in using Office package for translations.
I have been having a better workload since I started to use CAT tools but on many occasions my speed did not improve.
Of course CAT's main purpose is not helping translators to translate/proofread faster and earn more money (that's possible in some cases though), but CAT industry is more concentrated on selling their products, by aiming their strategy at having end clients saving lots of money.


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:43
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
MT slows me down though Nov 15, 2013

In WFP I usually have Google Translate running, but I find it does not save time, but sometimes comes up with very good terminology which no dictionary would have got me on. If the target is German the output of MT had too many articles, wrong endings, all the verbs at the end of the segment etc. It can take ages to clean it up, and often during the final proofing I still find errors which come from MT.

TM-technology at least speeds me up 50 % compared to reading and typing old style. And for the financial benefit of translation software you could view my topic here:


Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:43
German to Swedish
+ ...
Yes Nov 15, 2013

I can do a non-CAT draft translation of 1,000 words of a very familiar subject in an hour (if it's continuous text, no lists, tables or formatting). There will be lacunae here and there, and research and polishing will take 1-2 more hours.

You don't really want to keep that speed up for very long, but I once did 13,500 words in 2 days (16 hours) without CAT. This was a "perfect" text that I could simply type without much thinking.

CAT breaks my flow, cramps my style and slows me down. I avoid CAT jobs as much as I can.


nrichy (X)
Local time: 10:43
French to Dutch
+ ...
250/300 w Nov 15, 2013

I am one of those who learnt touch typing at the age of 14 and who translated already long ago, before CATs, and even before there were computers. (By the way, we had photocopying machines then and made a heavy use of that). I bought my first computer in 1985 (an IBM-PC with no hard drive...). 250-300 words per hour were the norm then, and it is still my speed for normal, medium-graded difficulty. Of course I can translate 700 words per hour, proofreading included, but only in areas I know very well and if it is current text, and if I am under stress (I am one of those who have to feel a pressure).

Wordfast Classic (I started in 2001) does not slow me down, Studio does, but I have less formatting problems in heavy formatted files. So I keep both, and it depends on the text.

What speeded me up in those years is not the CAT, but the accessibility of documentation on the internet. No need anymore to have a filled bookcase or to go to the local library, which is a great advantage, especially when one does not live in the country of the target text. It also solves all those problems we had before when delivering. No need anymore to run to the post office at 6 pm.


EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:43
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
As Joakim, Nov 15, 2013

I can do 1000 w/h on familiar subjects. Some pairs are faster than others - but Russian to English is not one of the fast ones. (The pairs where the sentence structure is similar are faster - roughly speaking, between two languages of the same group; in my case, Bulgarian to Czech or English to French is faster than Czech to French or French to Czech). Actually, except for some texts well suited for it, CAT slows me down.


Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:43
German to English
Output more than just words Nov 15, 2013

One of the benefits of using a CAT tool is the reduction of effort required to recreate the formatting of a document. I can't imagine translating a PowerPoint presentation without a CAT tool. The final product usually requires some tweaking, but it's less of a nightmare than starting from scratch. Fortunately I was already using a CAT tool when I got my first PPT document, but I had to recreate a lot of tables, etc. before I started using a tool, as overtyping wasn't always a possible solution. Sometimes I spent almost as much time formatting a document as translating it.

As I see it, a significant advantage of using a CAT tool is realized in the translation of repetitive or similar documents, since it's possible to leverage previously translated material. I once had a series of bid specifications for vehicle body painting facilities. The first, about 5000 words, took 2 days. The second (received from a different client) was about the same length, but took only one day (there were significant content differences). A third document was substantially larger, but again it only required one day to translate, since there was relatively little "new" material.

Has my "raw" speed increased? It's hard to tell, as I've become more skilled as a translator over the years. Having previously acquired/researched terminology easily accessible has without a doubt led to an increase in throughput. Client-supplied TMs give me some insight into preferred terminology and buzzwords without having to look at their web pages to get this basic information.


Russian to English
+ ...
That sounds alright to me - more haste etc... Nov 15, 2013

I have never used CAT in my career. I can knock out a text on a completely familiar subject matter at a speed of about 800 an hour, but that level isn't sustainable, and I'd rather think about a translation than 'knocking it out'. 300 words is maybe at the slow end, but something near that is completely fair enough in my opinion.

If I'm ordering a translation (which I have to do sometimes), I'd rather the translator did it properly over a bit more time than just blasting something out full of errors and typos, banking on being rescued by QA.


Miguel Carmona  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:43
English to Spanish
The CAT industry is mainly focused on pleasing translation agencies, not end clients Nov 15, 2013

Vincenzo Di Maso wrote:

... CAT industry is more concentrated on selling their products, by aiming their strategy at having end clients saving lots of money.

I beg to disagree.

The CAT industry is clearly focused on selling their products to translation agencies, knowing that by doing that, freelance translators will be forced to buy the CAT tools their agency clients request for their projects.

End clients in general have no idea about the existence of CAT tools or the discounts (100% matches, fuzzy matches and repetitions) agencies impose on freelancers.

Two main points to keep in mind:
  1. In most cases, end clients do not benefit in any way from the discounts agencies impose on freelancers.

  2. The extra profits for agencies from those discounts is the CAT industry's main selling point.


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