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Posted on20 April 2023

Translation turnaround time: How long will the translation take?

Translation turnaround time_How long will the translation take

When looking for a translation service, knowing how long it will take to complete the translation is likely at the top of your list. As a translation agency, we realise that this is an important, and sometimes the deciding factor for many people. The answer? Is never simple! If you’d like to get an idea of what to expect, here’s a brief look at some aspects that impact translation turnaround time.

What factors influence the time it takes to translate a text?

The time it takes to translate a text depends on many details and it’s always best-estimated based on the project and its peculiarities. Some of the main factors to consider are:

  1. Length of the document
  2. Language combination
  3. Subject matter and text complexity
  4. Formatting
  5. Level of certification
  6. Additional services

Let’s look at each aspect in more detail.

1)     Length of the document

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the main factor to consider when estimating translation turnaround time is the length of the text – the shorter it is, the faster it will be completed. Here at Atlas Translation, we base our quotes on the total word count. If you know the approximate word count of the text, we’ll be able to give you a rough idea of the price and turnaround time.

2)     Language combination

Not all language combinations are equal. There are rare language pairs which can make placing a project more challenging than others. This is mainly because the number of professional translators of certain languages may be limited or we may not have a suitable translator on our database. Time zones also play a part if you’re looking to translate something into, for example, Asian languages.

On the other hand, if you require translation between languages we work with on a daily basis, such as Spanish or French, we will likely manage to complete the work for you faster. Working with a common language pair often means that we are in regular contact with a number of translators of that language combination, and are more aware of their availability and specialisations. This can help immensely if you require an urgent translation.

It is worth mentioning here that the turnaround time can also be longer if a project involves translation into multiple languages.

3)     Subject matter and text complexity

There’s a significant difference between translating birth certificates, medical records, and technical manuals. Just because translators have perfect knowledge of at least 2 languages doesn’t mean that they can easily translate any material with which they are presented. For example, some translators may be more proficient in financial terminology, while others in legal due to their interests or previous experience.

At Atlas Translations, we always aim to place a project with a suitable translator who has experience in the subject area. This makes their job easier and ensures high quality. Keep in mind also that translators are not walking dictionaries and often have to do some research to ensure accurate and appropriate translation. As with most things, the more technical or specialised the text, the more time will be needed to translate it.

4)     Formatting

The file format and the document’s layout can significantly influence the time it takes to complete a translation. If you send us a text in an editable Word document, it will make the translator’s job more straightforward.

On the other hand, imagine receiving a scan or image of invoices with long tables, rows of numbers, and handwritten content. In order to translate them and present translation in a clear way, the translator will have to go back and forth, often zoom in, and carefully go through the source document to replicate the layout and ensure that nothing has been missed out in the translation. If your document includes complex formatting or will require DTP or typesetting work, be prepared for a longer turnaround time.   

5)     Level of certification

Do you need the translation to be certified, notarised or legalised? The turnaround time will depend on the option you need. Certified translations may be ready in as little as 1 business day if it’s a short document (approx. 500 words) in one of the common language combinations. However, if you need a notarised translation, we will have to book an appointment with a Notary so it can take a few extra days depending on availability.

Finally, for translations which need to be legalised (apostilled), the minimum waiting time is usually 3 weeks as the translation has to be first certified, then notarised, and finally sent to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). If you do need a legalised translation, we advise to get the ball rolling as much in advance as possible to avoid last-minute stress and receive the documents on time.

6)    Additional services

If you’re a company looking to translate a website, script, or brochures, the turnaround time will also depend on any other services you may require. This could include proofreading, typesetting, subtitling, voiceover and so on. For example, when proofreading is involved, we recommend adding at least 1 business day for shorter texts as the translation has to be checked by a second linguist, and then finalised by the original translator. You can read more about our proofreading stage and why it’s important here.

How fast do translators translate?

Okay, at this point, you’d probably like to know some concrete numbers, so here it goes… As a general rule, we estimate that translators can translate on average 2,000 words per 1 business day. However, keep in mind that this is just a rough guide as the final turnaround will be affected by all the factors mentioned above.

Remember also that there’s a whole process involved. If your text has 2000 words, it does not mean that the translation will be ready in exactly 1 day. First, we’ll have to identify the most suitable translator for the project and check their availability. Translators rarely sit around waiting for a project to come in, so most of the time, they will not be ready to start working on it right away. Ideally, the translator should also have some extra time to review the work before delivering it. At times, translators may have queries since context in translation is crucial. Finally, we at Atlas Translations give the translation a final review to ensure everything is in order. All of that takes additional time outside of actual translation.

Need advice?

From our experience as a translation agency, people often tend to underestimate the time it takes to complete a translation project. If you’re looking for high-quality translations, we recommend planning ahead. However, if that’s not possible, don’t despair! We can always try to come up with a solution. If you’d like to speak about your project with one of our staff, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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