Translation Rates: Determining Factors


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How much will translation cost? Rates for translation services range from very low to very high (from 0.01/word to 0.45/word in the USD equivalent, based on data available on the Net). There is no such thing as “standard rates”. You will receive an individual price offer for your document translation. Rates for translation depend on several factors:

1) Country

As a rule, translation rates are higher in high-income countries. The cost of living is high there. Hence, translators and translation companies tend to charge more to cover their business expenses.

High-income countries include, in particular, the USA, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates.

Detailed country classification by income can be found at the World Bank’s website.

Translators in the USA, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany are said to earn the most, while translators in China earn the least. Thus, I once received an email from a Chinese translation company offering cooperation and a rate of USD 0.01/word as a compensation for my work.

It is within reason to suggest that the lower living standards in the country, the lower rates for translation are there. However, it is worthwhile mentioning that translators and translation companies from lower-income countries, which work internationally over the Internet, are reluctant to provide a professional translation service at a low price. The point is that the international market gives them an opportunity to select customers offering higher rates.

Proofreading/revision of documents usually costs a third to one half of translation rates.

2) Language Combination

The rarer the language combination, the higher the translation rates will be. Also, if a language is not rare, but demand for translations from/into this language is high and professional translators are not readily available, the translation rates will likely be high. Thus, the 2007 Translation and Interpreting Compensation Survey carried out by the American Translators Association showed that the highest rate per word was in the English into Arabic and English into Danish language combinations on the US translation market.

3) Text Difficulty/Complexity and Subject Matter

Expect to pay more for difficult texts that have aspects not easily translatable, e.g. figurative language, cultural metaphors, puns, slang, idiomatic language. Translators may charge more for translation of graphics, charts, PDF documents, PPT presentations. Most likely, rates for translation of a specialized text stuffed with scientific terms and professional jargon will be high too.

4) Volume

Quite often, a minimum charge is applied to small text translations of, say, up to 200 or 300 words.

Discounts may be offered for translation of large-volume texts (above 10,000 – 15,000 words). Furthermore, TMs (translation memories) and CAT (computer assisted translation) tools can help to make your translation cheaper.

5) Deadlines

Translation market surveys show that about 75% of translation service providers charge more for rush jobs. On the other hand, you may be given a discount if you have set a long deadline for your translation.

On average, a translator produces 1,000 to 3,000 words per day. The United Nation’s translation speed norm is 2,000 words per day. Based on these figures, you can roughly figure out time necessary to translate your text.

6) Translation Provider (Translation Company vs. Freelance Translator)

As a rule, individual translators charge lower rates than translation companies. This is because the higher rates charged by translation companies include the added value that translation companies offer (project management, selection of translators, proofreading/editing, file conversions, etc.).

7) Discounts

In addition to the above mentioned discounts, translation service providers may offer other types of discounts, including the following:
- First-time buyer
- Long-term partner
- Seasonal discounts

8) Billing Units

Normally, translation is billed by the word of the source text (the text to be translated). Billing by the word of the source text enables to know in advance the price of the translation. Some translators charge by the word of the target text (the text created as a result of the translation). Also, translators may use the page (e.g. in Ukraine, Russia, Brazil, Italy), characters (e.g. a 1000-character basis in Turkey) or the line (e.g. in Germany) as a billing unit. Other possible billing units are by the hour, a lump-sum or royalties.

Proofreading/revision is billed mostly by the hour and sometimes by the word.

The statement that professional translation services can be expensive is not far from the truth. The above mentioned factors of translation price formation give an idea of how prices are formed and what you should expect in terms of rates for translation. It goes without saying that translation rates is an important criterion in selecting a translator. However, it should not be the sole criterion. It makes sense to weigh additional, non-price, competitive criteria (reputation, experience, expertise, quality, reliability, etc.) before choosing an optimal translation provider.


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

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