Human Translation: Operating principles
Thread poster: rabby

Nov 6, 2006


at the moment i am writing about machine translation systems and want to compare it with human translators. after i have listed the way machine translation systems work in general, i wonder why i can not find a clear definition of the steps how professional human translators translate a text.

another question: often i have read, there have been studies about translators' efficiency which describes how much words per hour a human translator is able to translate on the average. i wonder why some websites claim numbers like 1000 per day, other sites claim 2000 per day, but no one adds the source or tells me a study which has manifested such a number. Do You know any one of these studies?

Thank You very much for answers or tipps.


Joost Elshoff  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:36
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
Try Cristiane Nord's approach.. Nov 6, 2006

She wrote a number of articles in Translation Studies about the internal processes of translation. She even devised a complex scheme of how things are supposed to occur.

"Text Analysis in Translation: Theory, Methodology and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis"(1991), Amsterdam: Rodopi

"Translation as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained" (1997) Manchester: St Jerome

I'd bet you'll be able to find lots of texts in this Functionalist approach to translation... could be handy since it applies much of what was thought up in functionalist linguistic theory too.


mediamatrix (X)
Local time: 02:36
Spanish to English
+ ...
To get you started ... Nov 6, 2006

You will find quite a lot of clues about how translators work in this thread:

Translation - what process do you use?

As for the number of words/hour, I doubt that any self-respecting translator will commit themselves on that, since it depends on a hundred-and-one factors such as:

source and target language, subject-matter, quality of source text, physical format of source text, software used, the client's quality requirements, your understanding of the subject matter, your understanding of the source language, your writing skills in your target language, your typing skills (speed, typos), your state of health, the level of concentration you can maintain - and even your affinity with the views expressed by the author of the source text. Not to mention ..... (ad nauseam). Many of those, of course, are irrelevant in a pure MT context.

That said, I've seen it written on this website many times that 1000 to 2500 words per day is reasonable as a steady workload - although I fail to see how anyone makes a reasonable living on so little throughput.

Some years ago, when I was a salaried translator working full-time on texts that I understood fully (i.e. I could have authored most of them myself), I was asked to produce some productivity data. I recall that I calculated an average (over 12 months) of 8000 words per 7.5-hour working day (French to English, highly technical content). My French native colleagues, working on similar material but with a poorer understanding of the content turned in figures closer to 3000 words/day. Other factors affecting these results were that I was typing directly into my employer's computer system while one of my French colleagues dictated his translations, had them typed by a typist and then checked them, while the other drafted his translations by hand, had them typed up and then corrected them (note: this was in the early 1980s).

I also recall one particular period where I translated 60,000 words (technical, French to English) in five consecutive 9-hour working days - but that's certainly not feasible on a long-term basis.




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Human Translation: Operating principles

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