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How long does a translation take?

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) often ask: How long does a translation take? Here are some things to consider when planning a translation project.

How long does a translation take?
How long does a translation take?

You’ve written your content. You’ve checked it over and over again, made changes, tweaks and updates. Your peers have given it the nod of approval.

It’s taken weeks (maybe years) but you finally got there, and the good news is that you just need it translated before you can press ‘go.’

So, how long is it going to take to get the translation? Well the bad news, is that it’ll take longer than you think!

Of course there will be translation companies out there who’ll promise to have the job done in no time. Quite frankly avoid them like the plague because they’ll only make a mess of it.

Translation takes time and here’s why…

Translation is a skill that requires careful thought and consideration, and that takes time

It’s not just a matter of swapping words in one language for words into another language.

Different languages have different structures and formulate sentences differently, they reflect cultural attitudes and behaviours in different ways. The translator will think long and hard to make sure the style, tone of voice and content is accurately conveyed in the translation, just as you did with your carefully crafted English text.

Translation planning is essential for SMEs
Take the time to plan properly

Translation is also a multi-stage process and each stage takes time

A translation agency needs to identify a translator who knows the language you want to translate, has experience in the subject matter, and is available for the project. That can take a couple of days.

Once the translation is complete, the translator will then check their work, refine it and make sure the text reads naturally in the foreign language.

After that, the translation goes through another review – ideally by second translator – to make sure that everything is in order. This review covers everything from spelling and grammar checks to a comparison between the English text with the translation just to make sure nothing is missing or incorrect.

After that (oh yes there is another stage!) your document might go to a desktop publisher (DTP) for formatting just to make sure the layout and design is suitable for your target market.

And finally, if you’re part of a larger organisation and a regional office is going to use the translated document, you might want to get a member of staff who is in-country to give it a final check.

Of course, a small business might source a freelance translator directly, and that has many advantages, in which case the process might be slightly shorter, since they’ll do the checks and formatting themselves.

Technology has limitations when you are translating
Hype vs. reality
Don’t believe the technology hype – translation is a human activity and humans are not machines

It’s true that machine translation – advanced forms of Google Translate if you like – are effective when used properly, but they are far from perfect, and a human translator still needs to review the machine-generated output.

For SMEs it’s unlikely you’ll be translating enough content to create an effective machine translation database for this to be effective, so beware of translation agencies promising quick turnarounds – they might just be passing your content through Google Translate then getting a translator to ‘tidy it up.’

So that’s why it takes so long. Of course the longer the text the longer it takes to go through the process, so you might be able to deal with a short document in a day or two, but it will depend on the content.

How can you speed up the process?

Think about it this way. From the initial idea to the final version (and every step in between) you spend weeks creating the content to make sure it’s as good as it can be. Why rush the translation if that’s only going to create an inferior version? It doesn’t make sense.

What does make sense?

Avoid ‘writing by committee’ to speed up the creation of the English language content

Endless internal reviews of your document by multiple people can be a waste of time, especially if you’re just wordsmithing. After a while it becomes less about ‘getting it right’ and more about ego. Know when the document is fit for purpose and translation-ready.

Schedule translation time into your project plan

Your project manager should be doing this anyway! Don’t leave translation as an afterthought, give your extended team (i.e. the translator / translation agency) the best chance of making a success of the project.

Budget and allocate enough resources for the translation

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that translation will be cheap and easy just because you can paste a text into Google Translate. We’ve become used to the mindset that translation is free – it is, but only if you don’t care about the quality (or your reputation)!

Work with dependable translators and/or translation agencies

This can save you time and money because a reliable translator/translation agency will work with you to get the best outcome, rather than just focusing on a quick, cheap delivery.

If you’re not sure how to select a suitable translation partner, get in touch and we can discuss a few options!

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