Whether you are a translator or a translation client with frequent translation needs, you have probably been acquainted with the term “minimum rate” or its slightly more negative equivalent “minimum fee”. And as a translation buyer, you might have asked yourself—and your translator—why you should pay a fixed price of 15, 20, or even 50 bucks for as little as 56 words you conveniently sent your translator or project manager directly in the email.
While you are right that the actual translation might only take a couple of minutes, you might be surprised at how many non-translation steps are involved in order to provide you with a quality translation, and how much time those steps can take up. What follows is an example of an average 56-word translation job for which I would charge a minimum rate.
I have to read the email (3 mins.)
Yeah, of course I will have to read your email, unless we have moved to the middle-ages. Though while in a 54,000-word translation project the reading-the-email part is a very small one, in that quick 56-word translation taking care of this obvious step could eat up 10% of the time to complete the project, depending on how much you have to say and how easily I understand your instructions.
I have to add this task to my list of projects (2 mins.)
Unless I want to skim my emails later on for info half forgotten—and thereby waste more time—I need to add an entry to my project database to keep an overview over my current projects. This includes basic project and client info info such as project name, price, and deadline. These are some of the details I will need for invoicing, and later on for my tax declaration.
I have to create a file (1 min.)
I understand that sending your to-be-translated text directly in the email seems like a time-saver, and it just might be for you. But in order to deliver you a consistently qualitative translation, most professional translators like myself use a CAT (computer-assisted translation) tool, a type of software that helps us keep track of how we have translated terms, lines, and phrases. These are especially important when you have a project with regular updates and where consistency matters much, such as video games and software.
To use my CAT tool, I need to create a file format it supports, for example a Word document. And in order to keep my workplace tidy, I need to move this file into the proper project folder.
I have to import the file into my CAT tool (1 min.)
Adding a small document to our translation software doesn’t take that much time, but it still costs a few clicks and another few moments while the file imports and I navigate to the translation tab.
I have to look up previous translation notes (5 mins.)
I won’t remember the project details from two years ago, like if the main character addresses the player informally, formally, or super formally. I might also need to freshen up my memory regarding how we agreed to handle all these weapon add-ons for the German version. I therefore have to look through previous notes and instructions to make sure I don’t add unnecessary bugs to your short update.
Translation (13.5 mins.)
The general expectation is that a translator for western languages can translate about 2,000 (sometimes 2,500) words in a full workday of eight hours. Sticking to that two-thousand-word estimate, that translator would transform about 250 words per hour into his or her target language. At 56 words, this would come out to 13.44 minutes.
I have to keep feeding the glossary (2 mins.)
During the actual translation part, I still have to add new terms to the project’s list of terms (the “termbase” or “glossary”) to ensure consistency throughout the whole project, no matter how many updates are still to come.
I have to deal with issues and uncertainties (4 mins.)
Once in a while I do get lucky enough to know exactly whether by “You got it!” you are trying to tell the player that he retrieved an item of some sort, or that she is cool (which she hopefully knows by now).
More often than not though, smaller chunks of text mean less context and more room for interpretation, which in turn means breaking my head over what you might have thought, and having to write emails or Q&A entries with questions—which will interrupt my work while I wait for your reply.
Related article: How to Prepare Your Game for Localization
I have to do a proofreading (2 mins.)
No matter if you send us five thousand new words or just five, professional translators don’t skip proofreading their translations at least once. For me this also means doing a search for things like double spaces or inconsistent ellipsis (note: in German game localization, we generally use “…” with a hard space, though some games require us to use three periods without a space).
Related article: Bulletproof Proofreading Tips
I might have to do a quality assurance check (3 mins.)
If your text contains a lot of code or numbers, I will do a quality assurance with my translation software to make sure code or tags haven’t been accidentally modified. This means my program will look up and list possible issues and inconsistencies which I will check one by one. Even for small texts, this process might take several minutes.
I have to export the file (1 min.)
Once I am done translating and proofreading, I export the file into the same format and the same folder.
I have to run a spellcheck (1 min.)
Now that the file is translated and exported, I do an automated spellcheck, for example in Microsoft Word. If I do find mistakes, I fix them in both the Word document and in my translation software. Like this both versions stay consistent and I don’t have to export the file again. The problem is that most spellchecks cannot cope with code and made-up words, which is a common issue in video game and software localization.
I have to send out my translation (3 mins.)
Hey, looks like the file is finally ready to be sent your way! Along with the translated file I might be sending you comments on my translation choices and notes of possible issues, like “I assumed this means X, but if it means Y, please let me know so I will change my translation!” With these notes I can sometimes skip the Q&A part to avoid having to wait for your reply but still might have to make changes in case I assumed wrong.
I have to make sure everything is fine (1 min. to infinity)
It does happen that emails or attachments somehow get lost in the messaging vortex (perhaps because the translator forgot to hit Send due to undercaffeination) and never make it to you. Therefore, I usually ask my clients to quickly confirm that the file has been received and that everything appears all right. While I don’t need to sit there like a lovesick teenager staring at my email client until that magical moment happens, I do need to be on call. The client might also tell me that they did receive the file, but that I made incorrect assumptions which require modifications.
Related article: How to Find the Right Game Translator
Bonus: Text has been added or modified
There is a new line of text? Great, let’s do this all over again!
This whole process of translating 56 words of average difficulty, with only one round of proofreading, added up to 42.5 minutes. Next time you need a short text translated, forgive your qualified translator for charging a minimum rate instead of a mere 5.60, but trust them that they handle even the smallest job with the utmost care which they couldn’t do without paying for food and caffeine.