Buying a big urgent translation? Read this first

Sometimes you may find yourself with a very large text to translate quickly – a major contract, design specification or legal judgment, for example. A big urgent translation with tens of thousands of words to turn around in a couple of days.


Your boss has arranged an important meeting to discuss the translated document. What if you can’t find someone to translate it in time? Imagine the embarrassment (and the damage to your career prospects).

You will probably be able to find a translation company prepared to take the job on. They’ll reassure you about their team of expert linguists champing at the bit and their eagle-eyed quality-control process. Don’t worry, it’ll be ready.

And I’m sure it will be.

What really happens

The thing is, a professional translator can craft around 2,000–2,500 words per typical day. So to do your 20,000 words in 2 days, an 8- or 9-strong team would need to work on it together. Will the translation company have 8 or 9 translators in those languages with expertise in that specific field on their books? Maybe not. So they’ll have to hire some at the last minute. Will they all be up to standard? The company will do its best, of course, but some of its translators will be better than others; that’s only natural.

Some of the translators will have existing commitments for their other clients (translators are nearly all freelancers), so they won’t all be able to start immediately. Which means that others may have to shoulder more of the burden. Will they have to rush or work late, when tired, to meet the deadline? The risk of errors in complex sections of the text increases.

What about consistency?

Then, when all the translators have finished, all the different pieces must be glued together. Do they all use consistent terminology? You can go some way to ensuring that, by using a shared glossary, but that only works when all the terms are actually entered into the glossary (maybe some will be missed out in the rush). And you may notice distracting discrepancies in style between one part of the document and another, especially around the “joins”.

Another thing: with such a tight deadline, the translation will probably be delivered at the last minute, leaving you very little time to check it and assimilate the content before your important meeting. If you need to get back to the translators, will you have time?

So what can you do about these worrying problems?

Of course, in business, you’re not always in control of the timescales. But sometimes you are. That’s when it pays to plan ahead and leave yourself enough time to obtain a precise, high-quality translation from an individual translator or a small team. If possible, factor in 1 day for each 2,000–2,500 words that you need translated (or for each 4,000–5,000 if you have a team of 2) and another day or two to review and discuss the translations at your end and to allow the translators to make any changes.

For the most important texts, enjoy the peace of mind that your translator(s) have the skills and the experience you need, by hiring them directly. Contact them by phone, Skype or email to discuss your requirements. You don’t have to go to a translation company, where you don’t know who will translate your document. You have a choice.

That’s how you can avoid the nail-biting worries about whether your text will be ready on time, whether it will be accurate, clear and comprehensible, and whether it will impress your boss, your business partners and your clients.