How long should this translation have taken me?
November 5, 2012 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I recently finished my first ever translation assignment, a play from Spanish to English. When I first began, my employer asked how long I thought it would take. I grossly underestimated the time. What should I do now?

I estimated that it would take me 8-10 hours (it was taking about 20 minutes to do a rough translation of each page, and there were 44 pages). I failed to take into account how long it would take me to look up words I didn't know, to rework sentences so they are grammatically correct in English but still retain the drama of the Spanish, editing, etc.

I also failed to keep an accurate count of how much time I spent doing the translation (I know, bad me...), primarily because I've been doing the work in short snippets (i.e. whenever I had free time from school, work, etc.).

So now I don't know how much time to say it took. My completed translation is about 6,200 words, and Word says the total editing time was 100 hours, which sounds ridiculous to me. I was thinking saying the translation took 30-36 hours. I feel like it took longer, but that's already 3 times as long as I initially said (plus I feel bad claiming longer due to my failure to keep time).

What does the hivemind think? How much time should I be saying the translation took me?
posted by Sakura3210 to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You should say how long the translation took. The total editing time from Word is likely overinflated because you probably weren't actively translating every minute the Word document was open. Just give your best estimate of all those short snippets. Or, think of how long it took you to do one page, on average, and then multiply by the number of pages.

By the way, is this for billing purposes? I've done some freelance translation and it is generally billed by the word (or character, for the Japanese-English work I do).
posted by Tanizaki at 9:01 AM on November 5, 2012

Yes, it's for billing. I was actually wondering if I should instead ask to be paid by the word. My only concern is that doing so wouldn't accurately reflect the work I put in (the play was hard to translate in part because exact word-for-word didn't always get across the imagery, and I had to get creative).
posted by Sakura3210 at 9:10 AM on November 5, 2012

There's a couple different ways you might go about it.

1) You could calculate what it would have cost to have it translated using the industry-standard unit of a per-word rate, which for Spanish>English ranges from around $.06-.12/word for an individual translator, depending on the market. I'd use $.08/word in your case, because of your inexperience. (Literary translation can be harder and more time-consuming that some other types of translation, but IME it doesn't pay better rates than anything else). Based on that, your employer could have feasibly spent about $500 getting it translated elsewhere; work back from that to figure out how many hours you should bill based on your agreed-on hourly rate.

2) An often-bantied-about figure for the minimum volume of "typical" translation that a translator can handle in a day is ~2,000 words, so you could reasonably claim that the work should have taken a translator about 24 hrs to complete. Of course, in my experience in SP>EN is a fairly easy/fast translation pair compared to some others, and I know a lot of pro SP>EN translators with the right tools who crank through 4,000+ words a day, but that's doing technical specifications where there's not much artistry involved.
posted by drlith at 9:13 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

(I forgot to mention that all this is based on 5 years of experience as FT freelance SP>EN translator)
posted by drlith at 9:15 AM on November 5, 2012

I did a little bit of translating back in the day, and I charged what I thought the industry standard was. I knew that the more I translated the faster I would get, and I didn't want to penalize clients for my inexperience.

Basically, I charged for the actual number of hours, but not very much per hour, compared to my competitors.

(And I told them why I was doing so.)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:33 AM on November 5, 2012

I was going to say that if you estimated something that would have ended up costing the customer about $200, and because of your error, you spent enough time such that the cost is now $1000, that it's not very fair to the customer, because if you had been precise, he could have decided to use a different interpreter, with a different rate.

If it were me, I'd say, "Customer, that took a lot longer for me to translate than I thought. I'm going to bill you for the amount we agreed upon, but in the future, the charges will be very different."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:51 AM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Freelance translator here. If you can afford to, I'd take the hit and charge what you said you would. A good reputation takes a while to build, but you can get a bad one overnight. As you get more experienced, you'll be able to judge how much to bill more easily (as others have said, I'd look into charging by word - no one cares how long it takes you, just whether you did a good job). Whenever I make a business mistake like this that costs me money I consider it tuition fees plus a little stupid tax.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 9:53 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe I should have added this at the beginning - this isn't really a "business" for me. I took a class in which we read about the play (the play wasn't assigned because it was in Spanish). I read the play and discussed it, which the professor appreciated. I offered to translate, and the professor offered to pay me through the school. The professor also set the pay rate.

My miscalculation means that if I say I worked 24 hours (as suggested by drlith), the cost will be 2.4x more than my estimate would have.
posted by Sakura3210 at 10:07 AM on November 5, 2012

Since it's a friendly thing in the first place, maybe you should just talk to the professor?
posted by mskyle at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Give him a bill that itemizes the full amount, and include a "discount for original estimate" line item, and the total owed is for the 10 hour estimate.
Chalk up the difference to a student learning experience.
posted by anon4now at 12:12 PM on November 5, 2012

Worked it out with the professor. Thanks for the help everyone!
posted by Sakura3210 at 1:19 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Probably should have said how - I basically took a hit, and stuck with the high end of my original estimate (10 hours). Kinda sucks, but I just wanted to be done with the whole thing, so it's fine.
posted by Sakura3210 at 3:15 PM on December 15, 2012

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