Rising and falling word counts

The Rising and Falling Word Counts of Translated Documents

Writers, translators, proofreaders and other professions that work predominantly with words tend to deal in word counts. It’s like linguistic quantity surveying. If you want something written, the writer will usually charge you based on an estimated word count, as they can equate this to the amount of time the piece will take. It’s much the same in the field of translation. However, one linguistic quirk translators have to account for is the lengthening and shortening of documents translated from one language into another. In the trade, this is termed text expansion and contraction.

Experienced translators will know that when translated from English, some target languages will almost always end up with more words than the original, while others will have fewer. For example, the average document with 1,000 Arabic words will end up with approximately 1,250 English words. That is text expansion. On the other hand, a 1,000 English document translated into Danish will usually have around 900 words. That is text contraction.

Why does text expand and contract?

There are a number of different reasons. Anyone who has studied languages will know that sentence structure, syntax, word usage and terminology can vary greatly. The subject matter can also play a part in the contraction or expansion of the text.

The famously efficient Germans are equally efficient in their use of language. While a technical or legal text will typically expand by 20 percent when translated from German into English, a data sheet or parts list could expand by as much as 40 percent.

Pricing problems

The lengthening and shortening of documents can cause some translation agencies problems when it comes to pricing projects. Some agencies charge their clients on a ‘target’ word count rate. This is based on the number of words in the completed translation. For this reason, it can helpful if the client understands a little about text contraction and expansion rates to avoid a nasty shock.

A company looking to have a piece of text translated from English to Japanese might be surprised when the target word count is as much as 60 percent more than the original word count. That will have a considerable impact on the cost of the translation.

Most agencies will charge based on the ‘source’ word count. That’s the number of words contained in the original document. In that case, text contraction and expansion will not affect the price, but it will determine the length of the translated document.

When words can’t be counted

Another potential issue translation agencies face when pricing projects is that the documents are not always sent in a format that allows the words to be counted. Documents can be faxed over, be in graphic form or even be handwritten, which can make it difficult and time consuming to count the number of words present.

In this case, most agencies will tend to price the project based on the ‘target’ word count. This saves them the time counting each word manually, which is clearly not a sensible approach when faced with a 10,000 word research paper. Again, having an idea of how the text will contract and expand can be beneficial.

Document formatting

The extent to which text expands or contracts after translation is also important for designers and publishers. In many cases, a publisher or designer will need to know whether the text will fit into the space they have left on a website or artwork file. The expansion or contraction of the text could make the block of text too big or too small to fit in the allotted space.

Text expansion and contraction in practice

Source Language Target Language Text Expansion Text Contraction
English Arabic 25%
Arabic English 25%
English Finnish 25-30%
Finnish English 30-40%
English Danish 10-15%
Danish English 10-15%
English Swedish 10%
Swedish English 10%
English Japanese 20-60% (varies by content)
Japanese English 10-55%

Get in touch today

If you’d like to know how the expansion or contraction of your text document could impact your project, please get in touch with our team. Give us a call on +44 2392 987 765 or email: info@linguistica-international.com today.


Could you crowdsource your translation project?

Could you Crowdsource your Translation Project with Confidence?

‘Crowdsource’ is one of those new fangled words created by the internet generation that is now creeping into everyday parlance.

Crowdsourcing, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is:

“The practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.”

Crowdsourcing is probably most commonly associated with business funding. Aspiring entrepreneurs put their ideas out there, and amateur investors can back the idea financially is they want to bring it to life. Crowdsourcing has also been used for non-commercial work and to develop common goods like Wikipedia.

So what does all this have to with translation? Well, until now, the worlds of crowdsourcing and translation have lived disparate lives, but now a number of high profile companies are changing all that by taking a crowdsourced approach to translating their content.

Why are some brands crowdsourcing their translation projects?

Crowdsourcing is an extremely risky approach to take on any translation project. By using dedicated translation platforms to enlist the services of amateur translators, the likelihood is you’ll receive a disjointed, inconsistent and inaccurate translation. So why are some brands choosing this option?

Companies that choose to crowdsource their translation projects are clearly prepared to compromise on quality in favour of cost and speed. For this reason, companies will only usually crowdsource content that is not brand-critical. It is often the case that the compromise on quality actually makes the project feasible, simply because the cost of translating such large volumes of content would otherwise be prohibitive.

The middle ground between professional and machine translation

If you need a word perfect translation of a technical document, website, brochure or any other important content, there is no substitute for professional translation. For large quantities of content, the cost of professional translation services can be beyond some businesses. In this case, machine translation presents an alternative that produces low quality, often mistake-ridden results. The middle ground between the two is to crowdsource translation.

Two of the most well known names to crowdsource their translations are internet leviathans Facebook and Twitter. They have both used huge pools of translators to localise their websites. Facebook has long relied on its own users to help translate its site into more than 65 different languages, while Twitter used more than 400,000 volunteer translators to localise its site across 11 languages.

These crowdsourced translation projects were completed extremely quickly, allowing the social networks to unveil new versions of their sites just a few weeks after the translation projects began. However, as is often the case with projects completed by peers, there were considerable differences between the abilities of the would-be translators, making it impossible to achieve a high quality end result.

There’s still no substitute for professional translation

If you have a large translation project that doesn’t demand consistency or a particularly high level of quality, such as a fan site, a blog or a community based platform, crowdsourced translation could be the cost effective solution you need. However, if you’re looking to localise content to encourage the reader towards a particular goal, a professional translation plays an important part in building trust.

Any content that forms a part of your branding, such as marketing materials, brochures and product or service translations, really should be translated by a professional. The same can be said for technical or legal documents, where inaccuracies could get you into trouble.

Quality translations from a professional team

At Linguistica International, we offer high quality, word perfect translations performed by a professionally qualified team of mother tongue linguists. All of our translators have at least five years’ experience in the linguistics field and professional experience in your particular sector. That’s why, when global brands like Orange and Santander want to put their best foot forward overseas, we’re their go-to translation team.