How much can you type in a day?

Translation output is almost impossible to measure

Novels range between 100,000 and 175,000 words. The average human being hand-writes at 31 words per minute for memorised text and 22 words per minute while copying. Most authors key in about 1500 words a day, and that doesn’t include the time they spend polishing the story, or the time editors take to give it a final shine.

21st Century brains probably work at around the same speed as William Shakespeare’s in 1600 – but despite advances in technology, those sticky fingers still can’t keep up.

There are exceptions. Some prolific “authors” are actually a team of camouflaged writers working as a pulp fiction machine – and in music, Mozart must have been an insomniac from the age of five until his tragic demise at 35.

Curiously, 1500 words a day is also the output of an average translator, although upper-level professionals can achieve between 2500 and 5000.

In one study of computer users, the average rate for transcription typing was 33 words per minute, and 19 words per minute for composition. In the same study, when the group was divided into “fast”, “moderate” and “slow” groups, the average speeds were 40 wpm, 35 wpm, and 23 wpm.

A professional typist works at speeds of around 65 wpm, while some some advanced tappers can power along at above 120 wpm (for a limited period only). American Sean Wrona, the inaugural Ultimate Typing Championship winner, managed 256 wpm in a brief sprint, thought to be a record.

One hopeful venture capitalist wanted us to translate 25,000 words of highly technical Spanish into English by this time tomorrow. She was deeply downcast when it was explained that merely to retype the original accurately, without risking health and safety, would take the world’s fastest Spanish keyboard artist more than 36 hours. Add to that the proof-reader’s time…

The keying speed limit is only one reason why there is a ceiling on what can be translated to a high standard, overnight. After all, translation isn’t just a matter of “Can you type this up in another language, please?”


Mind over matrix: What can be done in a day always depends on the job

Translation turn-round times always depend on length, subject matter, language combination, and often the quality of the original words – if the source text is poorly written or ambiguous, the translator could face a lot of extra research or may need to run queries past the author or client to clarify just what they are trying to convey, all of which takes time.

And it isn’t simply a matter of multi-lingual mastermind over keyboard. The translated work has to meet editors’ quality standards, too, and that takes extra time.

Here are some realistic estimates for overnight translation in various language/subject matter combinations:

  • Standard business correspondence or contract text, between closely related languages (for example, German/French/Spanish to English): 2000 words, possibly more
  • Technical text between related languages: 1000 – 1500 words
  • Advertising copy between related languages: 500 – 1000 words (this is often a case of copywriting rather than translation. New text needs to be created to suit the target language or market, and simply “translating” the original may not be appropriate)

For entirely unrelated languages (for example, Chinese, Japanese or Hungarian to English), you might need to halve the above figures.

 Cost Estimator

Language combination
Word count
in original document?
Estimated final word count
Estimated cost
(approximate conversion)