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Urgent Equals Suboptimal


“Yesterday.” If this is the time that you normally want your translations back from a translation vendor, read this article, before you force your vendor to accept an urgent deadline the next time.

Something has to give, and that something is quality

Can translation be done overnight or twice as quickly as a client normally expects? Yes. Will this still be the same quality of translation? No! Unlike some other services, where it is possible to speed up delivery without sacrificing quality, translation quality takes a major hit, when a translation team works in a hurry.

Speeding up translation is not the same as, say, speeding up delivery of concrete. When you want a batch of concrete delivered to you the next morning instead of the next week, the equipment can bear this additional workload without decreasing quality. But translation is intellectual work that relies 100% on humans. A tired, overworked translator’s concentration span will decrease, resulting in mistakes.

Not enough time to do a good job

With urgent projects, a translation vendor may not have time to do the following:

  • Research information properly on the Internet;
  • Confirm an unclear or ambiguous original with the client;
  • Let a translator check the changes made to the translation by an editor.

Missed deadlines

If you do not allow your translation vendor a cushion of time, be prepared for late delivery. Urgent projects often mean that a translation team has to work 12 or more hours a day. How realistic is that? Of course, there always will be emergencies that people cannot ignore. Spending time on those emergencies will make it impossible to complete the work on time.

Is it really urgent?

It is my belief that urgency is often overstated. Perhaps this is because people tend to expect immediate service 24×7 these days. It is not uncommon for us to provide an urgent translation and then, after a week passes, receive a question from the client, indicating that he/she has not even opened the translated file yet.

A client’s assumptions about the time required to do a translation may be inaccurate. I recommend having a translation professional estimate the time required instead of setting a deadline yourself. A team of professional translators is in in a better position to do that accurately.

In conclusion

Patience is important in many walks of life. Take, for example, credit card debt—impatience makes people sacrifice their future for instant gratification. If you want better results in the long term, you need to be patient about your purchases. The same holds true for translation. Be patient about deadlines, and you will enjoy higher quality.

For more information about the relationship between time and quality, read this article about the quality triangle in translation.


  • Olga says:

    Roman, as always – a very useful and interesting post. I enjoy reading this blog and very happy I subscribed to this. Are you on Twitter though? When I share your posts I so want to mention the author.
    Thank you for your work!

  • Olga says:

    One of my good friends – a translator as well – when asked to get translation done for “yesterday” replies “E-mail your file to me a week before then” 🙂
    Reality that I know is such that: translation is stated as “urgent” making me work overtime and nights, the client doesn’t reply to information/clarification requests for days, doesn’t confirm delivery of translation for days, and doesn’t effect payment for weeks or even months. Makes me lose every belief in “urgency”. You are right, it is most often overestimated.

  • Good points, Roman.

    Another way in which speed detracts from quality is that it can prevent the translator from seeing ambiguities or unwanted alternative interpretations in the translation. When we write a sentence, we start with a clear idea of the intended meaning and then find words to encode it. But those words may have other connotations or meanings; and the way we put them together may be open to other interpretations. To catch these ambiguities, you need distance from your text. To achieve distance, you need to be able to leave a little time before your final review.

    “Urgent” translations are likely to cost more, too. First, the translator may (should) charge more for working in the evening or at weekends. And second, the chance of errors and hence rework is also greater (what if you have to reprint your brochure because of a typo?).

    What’s more, good translators are often in demand and may not be immediately available, so if urgency is your top priority, you may have to content yourself with an alternative – who may not be the best person. And so quality suffers again.

    • Hello Oliver,
      Terrific additions! Thank you.
      >To catch these ambiguities, you need distance from your text. To achieve distance, you need to be able to leave a little time before your final review.
      Exactly! The importance of this distance is one reason I do not like to translate myself. I ask for a huge deadline and end up starting each morning (because of fresh eyes) by revising this translation on two or three days in a row, because I just can’t help wanting to make it better. I end spending too much time on it, of course, since I am getting back to it on too many days.
      Best regards,

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.