It is generally assumed that translation efficiency is governed by translation initiation. However, the efficiency of protein synthesis is regulated by multiple factors including tRNA abundance, codon composition, mRNA motifs and amino-acid sequence1textendash4. These factors influence the rate of protein synthesis beyond the initiation phase of translation, typically by modulating the rate of peptide-bond formation and to a lesser extent that of translocation. The slowdown in translation during the early elongation phase, known as the 5textquoteright translational ramp, likely contributes to the efficiency of protein synthesis 5textendash9. Multiple mechanisms, which could explain the molecular basis for this translational ramp, have been proposed that include tRNA abundance bias6,9, the rate of translation initiation10textendash15, mRNA and ribosome structure 11,12,14,16textendash18, or retention of initiation factors during early elongation events 19. Here, we show that the amount of synthesized protein (translation efficiency) depends on a short translational ramp that comprises the first 5 codons in mRNA. Using a library of more than 250,000 reporter sequences combined with in vitro and in vivo protein expression assays, we show that differences in the short ramp can lead to 3 to 4 orders of magnitude changes in protein abundance. The observed difference is not dependent on tRNA abundance, efficiency of translation initiation, or overall mRNA structure. Instead, we show that translation is regulated by amino-acid-sequence composition and local mRNA sequence. Single-molecule measurements of translation kinetics indicate substantial pausing of ribosome and abortion of protein synthesis on the 4th or 5th codon for distinct amino acid or nucleotide compositions. Introduction of preferred sequence motifs, only at the exact positions within the mRNA, improves protein synthesis for recombinant proteins, indicating an evolutionarily conserved mechanism for controlling translational efficiency.