Indeed, both translation suppliers, as well as clients of translation services providers have vastly different views on the issue of the desired versus feasible speed of professional translation and localization.
While it's not easy to answer the headline question in a one-liner, let's try to break it down. Basically, the translated content's nature speaks for itself. Usually, the more time it took to write, the more time it takes to translate. Shakespeare plays, important medical research papers and a kitchen timer manual are just about as different as would be their translation processes. There are many types of translation areas that are very specific and thus require specific know-how, translation skills, and experience.
Literary vs. technical translation
So, the deepest divide is the nature of translation, or better said whether we talk about a literary translation that borders with an arts discipline and has artistic value added, or the technical translation fields where the content "just needs to be translated correctly".
Literary translation of a Shakespearean screenplay would require a highly skilled multilingual literate (yes, usually only one to translate the entire piece of work) to localize all nuances of a foreign language to fit the structure, while preserving the original meaning, that is including the artistic value of the content, too. Needless to say that each author has their own style that cannot be just transformed into ones and zeros as in technical translation.
Depending on the volume of content, the literary translation process could take even up to several months, at a speed starting from pages a day to a chapter or two. A careful guess would be approximately 1-2,000 source words/day.
Technical translation of highly specific non-literary content(e.g. medical translation, legal translation, financial translation – texts such as research papers, medical or engineering documentation, etc.). These fields of translation, albeit highly demanding on translators' expertise and a bit similar to art books by their complexity, can employ various strong computer-assisted tools (CAT tools) and well prepared multilingual databases such as translation memories and glossaries to support and eventually speed up the translation process. However, even with good computing power at hand, highly-specific content uses also highly specific terms and expressions. And even though a technical translation of a high-profile content enables (unlike the usual practice in literary translation) a team of translators to collaborate, the translation process can slow down to less than a page per hour. In general, for this kind of translation good translators can produce about 2-3,000 source words/day. General (technical) translation
For the general text (including guides, sales and promo material, website content, etc.), translators supported by CAT tools are usually capable of working at a speed of 2,000 source words/day and more. Such projects can also be split into a team of more linguists, which can then multiply the speed.
Maybe you wonder how long it would take if you would need a professional, high-quality translation of your content urgently? At idioma, we are able to handle smaller projects (up to 200 source words) within 4 working hours (CET), with no minimum fees. If you wish just 5 words translated, we charge you only for those 5 words.
And if you happen to need express translation at the moment, just click here.