The translator's workflow: the 5 main stages of a translation project

Just what happens at a freelance translator's desk? How does that document get translated? There are a few stages involved, so I thought it might be of use to note the major ones down for anyone interested.

1. Job negotiation

This is a straightforward agreement to fix a price and deadline for a project. To do this accurately a translator will review the source text, take note of any special instructions and estimate a timescale. For more technical texts, or for those handwritten, the time required will be much longer than for more simple descriptive writing. Once priced, timescaled and agreed, the translator gets underway.

2. Work begins

It is very common for today's translators to use software that stores all of their previous related work in memory, suggesting and inserting it where relevant, This software, known as a Computer Aided Translation Tool (CAT tool) allows them to search through the whole body of previous work in seconds for any words that may change meaning with context, or for the rarer more technical term. Not all translators make use of these tools, and some remain resolutely against their use, but they are widely used and often required by many agencies that freelancers work with. The benefit for these agencies being the project-specific translation memories (TMs) that can be produced and centralised for each client. As CAT tools systematically step through text within files, segments are rarely missed and translations of key words remain consistent. Formatting is also handily preserved, requiring only minor tweaks in the next stage.

Previously translators worked with typewriters and paper dictionaries - in fact to this day the DipTrans diploma test offered by the Institute of Linguists allows translators only the use of paper dictionaries and an un-networked PC - and posted or hand-delivered their work. Now, of course, the projects are emailed in various versions and with various tracked changes and comments between client and translator, with online dictionaries and wordlists being the staple of a translator's reference material.

3. First proofread

Once the first draft is complete, a printed or on-screen proofread and QA check is carried out. Inconsistencies in punctuation, typos, localisation of numbering and currency (1,50 € vs €1.50) and so on are all checked before either a) sending this proofed version to an external proofreader or b) returning the file to the client's proofreading team.

4. Publication and admin

Once approved by all parties (and any amendments made, either to match in-house style or to re-work particularly troublesome sections) the document is put to its intended use (as a website, manual, signpost, report, sales pitch etc.) and the translator starts to attend to the paperwork of invoicing, creating and updating any 'assets' such as translation memories and 

5. Marketing and CPD

This should then be the default position of any translator between projects, tending to their website and marketing materials, making calls to potential clients and ensuring their CPD (continued professional development) is being maintained at a satisfactory level. The UK's Institute of Translators and Interpreters recommends 30 hours of CPD per year, with 20 hours of informal (news, literature etc.) and 10 hours of formal (training courses) CPD suggested.

This then wraps up the overview of how a translator goes about translating those files and documents that get sent their way, and what they do while waiting for the next! Nothing too shocking, but a reliable and robust process that, when carried out by a professional, can optimise delivery times and cost for anyone seeking to procure a translation.

Final note - beware the alternative

Domain knowledge and a translator's own tools and assets can all add to this reduction in time and cost, making a professional translation a great investment - especially when compared to asking an in-house bilingual to use a word processor to muddle through with little to no specialist domain knowledge, tools or resources. Although this sounds like a cost-saver with the lure of no additional expense, and the staff member able to speak the other language, so surely therefore must know how to translate our sales material/annual report/technical manual on flange-actuated gauge-valves; the resulting muddled-mess of a translation would end up costing much more. Not only by being ineffective, creating an opportunity cost every time the text fails to do its job, but by taking the staff member away from their core role, doubling the cost to the organisation, and for a period of time likely to be much longer than a professional translator would take to do the same job, at a level of quality that would read like a natively written text.

So if you do have a decision to make on whether or not to invest in a professional translation, I hope the above has been of some use.

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