For the uninitiated, figuring out translation rates might seem like walking through a maze. That even includes possible clients who have used translation services before. At one point they would be quoted a price per-word, at another, a price per-hour. In other instances, they would be quoted a price per the whole document or even a whole set of them.
Even then, the quotes from two or three different translation agencies of freelancers might differ quite a bit. So what determines translation rates? What are the elements agencies and translators consider when they come up with a certain quote?
Like with translation itself, determining translation rates is not as simple as it might seem on a surface. There is quite a number of factors that translators have to consider before they give a definitive quote. They don’t simply look at the size of a document and decide what their translation price should be.
Word Minds points out that “most people who have never worked in the translation industry have a hard time understanding why translations that seem similar on the surface have different prices. There are many factors that influence translation costs: language combination, time frame, topic, volume, quality assurance, layout formatting, etc.”
Considering all these factors an agency or a translator should give an accurate price based on the distinctive features of any given translation project. On the other hand, the potential clients should at least bear in mind some basic outlines of how translation services formulate their rates.
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The factors that influence translation rates – language pairs and availability
Very often, when a potential client receives a translation quote, it doesn’t simply include just the fact that a certain document has to be translated from one language to another. There is the whole gamut of translation services that can be included like summarization, editing, proofreading, and others. But that is just an additional element.
When any given translation rate is being determined, translators and agencies, take at least these elements into consideration:
- the language pair or pairs;
- the subject matter and complexity of the document(s);
- the deadline;
- the need to use translation tools like terminology bases and similar;
- the formatting of document(s);
- the experience of translator or translators working on the project;
- other services that the client wants, like editing and similar.
When language pairs in the translation are mentioned, the first thing that comes up to mind is the complexity of any given language. For many, that could be German, a language that contains quite a number of compound words. Yet, translation rates for that language can be lesser than say for some Slavic languages like Slovak or Slovenian. Why? The basic reason lies in the fact that there are more translation services available for some languages than others.
Another factor to consider here is the location of any given translation service. Getting a competitive translation rate for a document from and into, say, Chinese could be possibly easier if you request it from a translation agency in Hong Kong than somewhere else.
Another factor that can bear on the rate is the possibility that any given document has to be translated into more than one language. In that case, getting a quote from an agency that offers more possibilities is probably going to be more competitive than the ones from a couple of a few other ones.
The subject matter, complexity, and other factors
As Thumb Tack (above) correctly points out, any document can be translated “including birth certificates, citizenship and immigration forms, marketing documents, business contracts, and other.” Still, any and every single document can differ from another, even if it is just a name or address.
More often than not though the differences can be substantial. Even if, say three documents in question have the same number of words or pages. It is one thing to translate a standard business correspondence and another medical manual on how to install a heart pacemaker.
This difference in subject matter and complexity determine who should be the designated translator. For the latter, it is certainly the one with more background and experience in dealing with the translation of medical and/or technical texts.
Another factor could be the need to use computer-assisted translation (CAT) and various other translation tools. For example, translating a lengthy court judgment requires a team of two or more translators. This team will certainly have to use one or more terminology databases and tools like Trados that can produce previously-stored phrases and sentences.
Clients usually want the translated documents to look as close to the original as possible. For translators, including specific elements like letterheads and specific formatting (screenplays, for example), can often take more time than translating itself. Also, clients often want a translation service that they engage for any given project that completes the process itself. That would include everything from editing and proofreading to publishing preparations.
All these are factors that are included in translation rates and clients should have them in mind when they request a translation quote.
Methods of calculating translation rates – per word, per line and per page
Word Minds (above), presents one of the most comprehensive lists of methods by which translators and agencies calculate their rates. These include the following translation rates:
- per word rate;
- rate per line;
- per page rate;
- rate per hour;
- flat fee;
- minimum price;
- customized price.
Translation rates set on a per word basis are the most common method of calculating translation rates. These rates are usually the most straightforward and easy to comprehend. Still, even with those “the price can increase or decrease based on different factors such as volume, urgency, subject area, etc.”
Again, there is a price difference depending on the language pair. According to Word Minds, in 2019, the price for a translation to the Spanish language ranged from 4 to 22 cents per word. On the other hand, the same rates for Japanese were from 18 to 32 cents per word.
In a number of European countries, translators use a per line method of calculating translation rates. These are based on standard lines and the target language. “ The price can increase or decrease based on different factors such as volume, urgency, subject area, etc.”
As the above source mentions, “this pricing model gets tricky when you compare the rates for the number of words and lines. For example, in the case of English to German translation assignments, around eight words fit in one line of text.”
As Word Minds explains, “per page pricing works well for documents where an electronic word count cannot be obtained. A good example of this would be any documents that were scanned to a PDF file, such as medical records, court documents or old books. Per page translation usually starts at $100 for one page because the translation team will work on recreating your document in an editable format.” If a document contains tables, graphs, and schemes this certainly affects the cost.”
Calculating translation rates – other methods
Per hour is not a particularly suitable method for calculating ‘standard’ translation rates. But, it is probably the best method when a translator needs to use transcreation. Transcreation is a concept used in the field of translation studies to describe the process of adapting a message from one language to another while maintaining its intent, style, tone, and context.
It is also a common method when translation services such as editing and proofreading come into play.
A flat fee is a standard, but one that is used when translating the so-called CJK languages. CJK is an acronym for Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages. There, a single character represents a whole phrase, not just one or a couple of words.
Any typical page generated by a word processor usually contains about 250 words. Often there is a document or a series of documents that do not exceed such a page. In that case, translators or translation services set a minimum price. You often need to spend the same time and effort on these ‘small’ documents as you do on the more voluminous ones.
Customized price comes into play when there is a voluminous translation project that involves documents of different complexity, length, and subject. Such projects usually involve different types of translation rates and can certainly look like a maze.
But, on the other hand, they usually involve one of every client’s favorite words – discount.
Untangling the translation rate knot
With all of the above said, it still might seem that understanding the translation rates might be a bit daunting. Still, knowing the basic principles translators and agencies use to arrive at them helps a potential client. It allows him to understand in general how they came to a certain rate.
Using an aid like the Word Mind quote or those from sources like search.proz.com or Pick Writers certainly helps too. But as Sure Languages notes, the clients who get the best translation rates are the ones that get at least three quotes from potential translation services or freelancers.