Blog by Bas: Translating 18,000 words within 24 hours: is that possible?

7 May 2020

On average, we translate about 1500 words per working day for regular translation orders. And we usually keep a minimum delivery time of two working days in order to guarantee quality, to have enough flexibility when choosing from our pool of translators, and to keep the workload of our project managers manageable. Sometimes, however, our clients need the translated texts just a little bit faster: a press release that is to be sent to all clients abroad within an hour, a PowerPoint document to be translated for a presentation that takes place the same afternoon, or a multilingual website that is scheduled to be launched within two days. This creates quite a bit of challenge and creativity. Our colleague Bas writes about it.

During these times, some organisations are forced to take a step back. On the other hand, there are companies who are running great as ever or even better since the corona crisis. An example is a client for which I am the main point of contact as a project manager. They called me last week and told me they needed the Dutch translation of an English report within 24 hours. The report turned out to be 53 pages long. One A4 sheet will usually contain 300-400 words on average, so you do the maths. Obviously no human translator will be able to manage that within just 24 hours.

The goal of the text

Given the enormous time constraints, machine translation immediately presents itself as a possible solution for this assignment as the machine is able to complete the translation in a few minutes. However, a machine translation always contains flaws. In that case it is important to consider the goal of the text. In the case of this assignment, the text did not have to be flawless as the translation was meant to serve as a working paper. In addition to machine translation, I suggested the option of light post-editing to our client: a process in which a professional human translator corrects the machine-translated texts. In what way?

  • Proofreading the machine-translated text
  • Correcting spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Rewriting unclear sentences
  • Bringing the translation in line with the source text content-wise
  • Ensuring consistent use of terminology

The goal of this process is to make the translated text understandable to the reader; it does not necessarily have to become a perfect text. 

The search

But how to find a post-editor who’s available in the next 24 hours and on top of that meets the requirements we place on freelance translators? Together with two colleagues (with each one of us working from home) I picked up the phone and we made a round of calls to all our professional English translators and post-editors. We were supposed to deliver the translated text the next day at noon. This meant that the translation had to be ready at 11.00 am to give me enough time to do a final check as a project manager. After having had five conversations with translators, we could certainly conclude that this wasn’t going to be an easy task. Back to the client. Is 1.00 pm also an option? Sure, we can just barely manage that. On to the next round of calls, with one extra hour leeway. Translators didn’t answer the calls, weren’t available and one even rejected the call. Thankfully the latter called me back within ten minutes; she was in the car when I called. This turned out to be a bullseye: she was able to get started on the assignment right away.

25 hours later

Machine translation: check. Post-editing: check. Final check by project manager: check. Translated text delivered to client: check. The client quickly sent us a few alterations, which we immediately processed in the translated document. 18,000 words within 25 hours: check.

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