How long do translations take? 

When a client needs translation, we always ask when they want it delivered. Sometimes, the client replies “as soon as possible.” This communicates urgency, but it’s not really helpful information. When you ask “how long do translations take?” be prepared to answer a few questions.

When calculating turnaround time, we need to find a balance between speed, cost, and quality. As a rule, translation project managers try to hit the “sweet spot” and deliver a translation that meets budget requirements, arrives when the client needs it, and achieves the correct level of quality. When speed needs to be increased, quality and cost can both be impacted.

What is “translation quality?”

Every language service partner will tell you that their work is of the highest quality. However, what they mean is that they will achieve the level of quality that the client requires. According to the ASTM International Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation, there is no “objective” measure of translation quality: “Specifications are defined in terms of the purpose of the translation and the needs and expectations of the end user.”

Imagine that a client needs technical translation using controlled language, and they receive a gorgeously written description worthy of Dickens. In this instance, the LSP has not met the needs and expectations of the end user. The content might be beautifully written, but it’s worthless to the client. As an ISO 17100-certified language service partner, Scriptis adheres to global standards for quality assurance processes. However, subjective “quality” is a moving target, and different types of translations require different standards to measure it.

What is the relationship between quality and cost?

The variables that impact cost are:

  • Language pair.  Some languages cost more than others, because of differences in supply and demand and different costs of living for different countries.
  • Specialized/technical subject matter. A translator needs to be able to fully understand the text they are translating. Expertise in a specialized technical domain commands higher rates.
  • Size of the project. The number of words in the document or project is an indicator of turnaround time. On average, an individual linguist can translate 2,500 words a day.
  • Type of media. Some digital media such as websitesCAD drawings, and software require localization engineering to extract translatable content and prep content for the linguistic team. After translation, additional reformatting or multilingual DTP may be required for manuals, maps, brochures, web pages, PowerPoint presentations, and other materials.
  • QA process. Our standard translation workflow includes translation by a native speaker of the target language, a second review/proofreading step by another native speaker, and a final in-house quality assurance. Transcreation for marketing and advertising copy, on the other hand, might require several review cycles.

Levels of Quality Assurance

If you’ve received a document in Arabic and you plan to use it for in-house reference, you probably wouldn’t need several cycles of QA.  Relying on our standard translation process will be fine. But what if you are creating persuasive outward-facing content for sales and marketing?  You may want an additional round of in-country review to involve your local team and ensure the content strikes exactly the right tone.

Furthermore, if you need translation for clinical research or instructions for use (IFUs) for a medical device, you may face additional regulatory requirements. The workflow may require the additional step of back translation. This takes time.

If you face a truly tight deadline, project managers can shorten the turnaround time. The costs of reshuffling priorities and putting in overtime or weekend work could be covered by a rush fee.  Also, projects might be split across several different teams with steps done in parallel, with the project manager putting in additional effort during QA to ensure consistency. These strategies will shorten the turnaround time but increase the cost.

So: how long do translations take?

To get a solid answer, be prepared to provide your language service partner with the right information. Oftentimes the person who calls us with a last-minute translation request is acting on their boss’s directions. And sometimes, the boss has said something vague like “as soon as possible.” But perhaps they aren’t sure exactly when it’s needed, either. This is why we probe with a question or two about your specific needs. It could be that our standard turnaround time will produce the right level of quality.  If not, we can adjust our workflow to meet your needs.

We can always create quotes with both standard and rush fees. We want our customers to feel confident that they are getting what they need, when they need it, at a fair price.