You are not alone if you have ever wondered how many words a professional translator translates per day. Is there a limit to what a human translator can produce on a daily basis? This, however, is a tricky inquiry, and doesn’t have a definite response, as everyone and every translation agency have their various working methodologies with diverse fields, software, equipment, skills and experience.
Therefore, it is quite hard to generalize and provide a straight answer to this question. For instance, you may be given a task of 2 projects with the same word count but different fields; and you will discover that both tasks will require a different approach and different timing. Whilst one may take you a mere 30 minutes to complete, the other may require you to spend an hour or more on it. If you know languages, you know perfectly well what we are talking about: try translating a menu from a sophisticated restaurant!
One factor to keep in mind is the operation medium, i.e. working with text formats in either hard copy or soft copy (electronic). Here you would realize dealing with hard copies would take longer time than when you are working on electronic texts. Whilst a paper-based translator may be stuck on 1,800 words a day, translators working with electronic formats (file-based translations) and a good translation memory can achieve anything between 2,500 and 3,000 words. But this may also differ across languages as translating into Japanese is known to be slower than translating into European languages, as several keystrokes are required to display and type a character in any of the three alphabets used in Japanese. In the case of Chinese translations, translators may often need to choose between the suggestions provided by the software.
Your method of word reference also matters a lot, as looking up words you don't quite understand will take up precious time. And also, the more acquainted you are with a specific subject or topic, the faster the translation will go. A clearly written, easy-to-understand text will also be easier to translate compared to text that has long and complicated sentences. You can also consider typing speed, as this is one of the major factors that determines how many words per day one can get through when translating a document.
Another pointer is to take into consideration the time it will take to edit and proofread any project, as a translation job does not only consist of just translating but also checking, double-checking and triple-checking the job! A translator may boast about translating 150 words per hour working on a complex text, where they are not so familiar with the vocabulary, and require a lot of prior research. However, the same person may mention that they can translate 600 words per hour working on a much easier text in which they are specialized.
With this being said, a translator working on a certain project may produce between 3000 and 5000 words daily, if certain conditions and technologies apply. For example, it is known that customized machine translation boosts translators' productivity and that having reliable translation memories will also speed up the translation process. This, however, cannot be sustained over a long period of time – hence, on average, they would be able to do between 1500 and 3000 words daily, working at a comfortable speed and also having the time to review and accurately check through their work.
In conclusion, it all depends on the person or company in question, as skills, experience and method of work organization play a vital role in determining translation word counts. It is you, as a user of translation services, or a professional translator, who has to set your standards, and check your timing and schedule to see the number of words that you can achieve every day with the right translation tools.