Russian to English Translation:
Informal Research on Expansion Factor

There is word count expansion in Russian to English translation. It means that an English translation of a Russian text has more words than the Russian original. But how significant is such expansion? The answer to this question may help users of translation services to make an informed decision in choosing a translation service provider and to check translation quality. And here is how…

To answer the question about the exact percentage of translation expansion, I gathered and analyzed certain statistics. The statistics were compiled from professional Russian to English translations covering a wide range of sectors and topics.

For this research, excerpts from the following diverse texts were used: the Constitution of the Russian Federation, addresses and speeches of the President of the Russian Federation, interviews of high rank Russian officials published in The Economist and The Washington Post, a tourist booklet, the content of a website of a Russian aircraft factory, books of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Agni Yoga books.

Translations from Russian into both British and American English were considered. Topics included law, politics, international relations, society, religion, philosophy, education, economics and finance, science and innovation, tourism and sightseeing, aircraft building, and fiction.

All analyzed Russian to English translations were intended for publication, so they were of highest professional quality, polished, with appropriate terminology and style, carefully edited by native speaker editors.

The following figures were gathered:

    Total word count for source texts (Russian originals): 41,678 words
    Total word count for target texts (English translations): 57,166 words

A percentage for the expansion factor was calculated as follows:

41,678 words – 100%
57,166 words – X%

    57,166 words x 100%
X = _______________________ = 137,16%
    41,678 words

137,16% - 100% = 37,16%

Therefore, this informal research suggests that the expansion factor for high-quality Russian to English translation is about 37%.

What does it mean for a translation buyer? It means that if your translation service provider charges you by target (English) word for Russian to English translation, it is disadvantageous for you. You pay by 37% more than you would if the word count were based on source (Russian) word. Choose translation service providers that base their fees for Russian to English translation on the source word count.

Another critical point is that the translation expansion factor can serve as a measure to evaluate translation quality. Even if you don’t know Russian, you still can evaluate the quality of the Russian into English translation by checking the word count of the source and target texts. If the translation expansion factor is, say, 5% or 45%, it should be a troubling sign. It means that the translation is not as well written as it should be and that it has either omissions or additions, and/or that it has not been edited properly by a native speaker editor.

There are exceptions, of course. The translation expansion factor for certain technical documents (e.g. balance sheets, catalogues, data sheets) will be less than average.

The result of this informal research applies only to the Russian into English language combination. The expansion factor does not occur in translation from English into Russian. What does occur is word count reduction going into Russian.

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_____________________________________________________________________ Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

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