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Really only 2500 words a day?
Thread poster: Steven Foster
Steven Foster
United States
English to German
+ ...
Dec 13, 2016

I just signed up here, browsed around the forums, and I must say that I am quite shocked to learn that 2500 words a day is considered an acceptable daily output for a professional translator.

I have worked in a patent office for several years and translation was one of my many chores. When I devoted a full 8-hour day to it, my average output was around 5000 words, and that included previous research (usually 1 hour, give or take) plus two rounds of checking/proofreading.

In case of emergency I could easily stay 2 or 3 extra hours and broke 8000 a day, although I admit that I couldn't keep that pace for long.

During the translation phase I can type 1500-2000 words per HOUR.

And I didn't certainly feel like a freak, since other colleagues did 4000 a day without much effort. I clearly remember in my early days one of my most experienced coworkers doing 19000 in two days, proofread and everything.

If this sounds like bragging (or faking), so be it. I'd be just curious to know if this 2500-words-a-day thing is real.


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jlrsnyder  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 19:26
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
2500 seems a bit low Dec 14, 2016

When scheduling, I usually figure on 3000-3500 words a day so as not to promise more than I can deliver, and when I look at my average output over a year (250 working days), that's pretty accurate. However, I have managed 5000-8000 words a day, when necessary, and by "day" I mean 12 to 14 hours at the keyboard. I have seldom managed to type more than 1000 words per hour.

That said, many factors can slow the translation process down: handwritten source text, reproduction of formatting, researching unfamiliar words and abbreviations, needing to rework text for esthetic/literary/advertising/persuasive considerations. As well, tasks other than translation must be accomplished during the work day: negotiation of assignments, billing, accounting, equipment maintenance and replacement, acquiring new skills, networking with colleagues, etc.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:26
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I agree with JLR Dec 14, 2016

In an eight-hour work day, I can probably safely handle at least 5000 words of material that requires minimal research and formatting, and up to 10,000 words in an "extended" day.

But since not every translation project is equal with respect to research and formatting requirements, I do not feel comfortable promissing any general productivity in the abstract.


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Álvaro Espantaleón  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:26
Member (2015)
English to Spanish
+ ...
I never do less than 10,000 a day myself Dec 14, 2016

which means I can translate L'Éducation sentimentale in approx. 12 days.

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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:26
German to English
1000 to 1500 words per day Dec 14, 2016

I average between 200 and 250 words per billable hour (total translation process with research, editing, proofreading, etc.), but I am perfectly aware of (and comfortable with) the fact that I am slow.

If you intend to work full time, you also ought to multiply your productivity per hour by five or six and not by eight, otherwise you will be working far more than 8 hours per day (billable hours vs. total working hours).

Working 250 days per year is also way more than full time in most countries (= only 11 days per year off for all holidays, vacation days and sick days). That's not a problem, but we ought to be aware of what we are doing.

Rates, translation speed, working hours per year and total income all vary wildly among different translators, and there's no reason why it should be otherwise. 500+ words per hour, day in and day out, does not seem particularly unusual. That figure does not sound shocking or like bragging to me. Your colleague's consistently translating 1000+ words per hour would be highly unusual, but probably not bizarrely so. By the same token, I think there are a lot of translators here who estimate their productivity at around 250 words per hour (total translation process).

2500 words per day [corrected from "hour"] as the average for people genuinely working full time actually seems high to me. I wouldn't think that most translators average 400+ words per hour (total translation process).



[Edited at 2016-12-14 13:06 GMT]


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Steven Foster
United States
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Reasonable Dec 14, 2016

Now that sounds more reasonable.

I must admit that my 5000-a-day average was always in subjects well within my comfort zone (engineering or telecommunications), no heavy formatting, and very little distractions or collateral activities (answering mails etc.).


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Annamaria Amik  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:26
Romanian to English
+ ...
2500w is low for seasoned specialized translators Dec 14, 2016

Alvaro Espantaleon wrote:

which means I can translate L'Éducation sentimentale in approx. 12 days.


I translate about 1000 words/hour in my fields, law, banking, or even more if the text is super-easy, such as blog posts and the like, but surely literary translation, where you don't have an arsenal of terminology in your head, must be much slower...?

1000w/h is faster than average, but it is still a big volume of words that one's mind has to process and that makes it tiring enough not to want to do that 8 hours a day.


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
Really Dec 14, 2016

Michael Wetzel wrote:

I average between 200 and 250 words per billable hour (total translation process with research, editing, proofreading, etc.), but I am perfectly aware of (and comfortable with) the fact that I am slow.

[snip]

Rates, translation speed, working hours per year and total income all vary wildly among different translators, and there's no reason why it should be otherwise.

[snip]

2500 words per hour as the average for people genuinely working full time actually seems high to me. I wouldn't think that most translators average 400+ words per hour (total translation process).



I agree with this, except that depending on the type of source text, the "words per billable hour" that Michael describes is not even necessarily considered slow. There was a discussion about this on Facebook only yesterday.

And there may be vast differences depending on the language pair and the specializations involved.

I'm currently working on a court ruling; the first half went by rather quickly yesterday (despite my very distracting participation in the FB discussion during business hours) because most of the wording was straightforward and I am very familiar with the terminology. Today I'm working on the second half, which is full of citations of obscure phrasing that has literally been invented by another court and has never been translated. Now I find myself mired in research and head-scratching (firstly to determine what the heck the court is actually trying to say, and secondly to determine how the heck I can write the same concept in English). It takes time. When I'm finished with the entire document, I'll go back and proofread/revise it probably 2, 3, or even 4 times, depending on how much I want to tweak it and how much time is left before my deadline.

As a freelancer, there are also inquiries to respond to, quotes to calculate, invoices to create, send off, and follow up on, general bookkeeping, etc. Some or all of these can take chunks out of the work day, which will obviously affect "total productivity".


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Sara Massons  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:26
Member (2016)
English to French
+ ...
It depends on the project and of your typical day Dec 14, 2016

In the translation phase I also type more than 1500 words per hour. However, the time to spend on terminology research can be a large part of the job for really technical documents or new subjects and I always proofread at least twice the whole document. Upon that, in my typical working day, I don't spend 8 hours translating, in fact rarely more than 5.

When offering my services, I really prefer keeping the number of words lower (3000 a day) so that I keep some time for other actions. For very urgent project, I can actually output 6000 to 8000 words for an longer than usual day.


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Texte Style
Local time: 00:26
French to English
it depends of course! Dec 14, 2016

If I'm translating instructions for a hair-dryer, I probably won't have to look up more the odd term here or there, and it would only be to check there's nothing better than the term that spontaneously pops up in my brain. I can easily get 5000 words under my belt in a day.

Then again, if I get a pitch for next years' fashion trends at Christian Dior, that's been beautifully written to evoke beauty and elegrance, I'll take far more care over it, poring over the thesaurus, analysing the text for references and poetic devices, trying to capture the same style. I probably wouldn't get more than 2000 words done, and even then I'd want to read it through one last time the next day to make sure nothing escaped me.

So long as both types of translation are profitable, it really doesn't matter, does it?


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 01:26
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Why more? Dec 14, 2016

If you get your income from 2000 words daily why do more? The more I get, the more I pay tax and the sooner my wrist will be spoiled. Youngsters maybe don't think about it, but you have to keep yourself fit by exercising, relaxing, viewing tv, meeting people etc. Living is more than work.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:26
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Two points Dec 14, 2016

One has already been mentioned. You were probably spending all day translating, while other people were employed to take care of other things. We are mainly one-person buainesses. There's nobody else to take calls, negotiate with current clients, approach potential ones, invoice those whose jobs are complete, chase those who haven't paid, do all the book-keeping... Then most freelancers invest time in various aspects of training and if you don't spend time on marketing/networking you're storing up problems for tomorrow. I could go on ...

There's also the fact that our jobs are very variable. Even if you specialise, they're unlikely to always be in the same file formats, page layouts etc. From what I've seen of patents that may not apply, but it does in other areas.


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philgoddard
United States
German to English
+ ...
Yes, it does. Dec 14, 2016

Steven Foster wrote:


If this sounds like bragging (or faking), so be it.


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 18:26
Member (2008)
French to English
Employee vs freelancer Dec 14, 2016

Steven Foster wrote:

...translation was one of my many chores. When I devoted a full 8-hour day to it, my average output was around 5000 words...


Exactly. You were an employee. Your average output was not 5000 words every day. Other people were getting the work for you, quoting clients, billing them, keeping the company running, providing you with a desk, chair and computer, etc. Freelancers have to do all that in addition to translating.

The 2500 words per day figure is a daily figure that a freelance business can count on committing themselves to. It has no relation to what an employee can occasionally do some days.

I'd be just curious to know if this 2500-words-a-day thing is real.


Just try committing yourself, as a freelancer, to providing clients with 5000 words a day. Then see what happens when 2 of them agree to your offer, a week later and both at the same time. That's what freelancers live with all the time.

2500 words per day is what I have proven I can offer clients and be sure to be able to meet my commitments. Of course higher bursts ("When I devoted a full 8-hour day to it...") are possible, but not for long and not as a general commitment.


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Michal Fabian  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 18:26
Member (2012)
Dutch to Slovak
+ ...
Surely the idea... Dec 14, 2016

... is to achieve a comfortable level of living with, say, 2000 words a day, so that one can spend more time doing stuff that really matters?

If the choice is to be comfortable with 2000 a day or wealthy with 5000 a day, I will go for 2000 every time.
However, having to do 5000 to be comfortable or, worse, to merely get by, is certainly a reason to reconsider the business model.


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