What does “translation rate per word” mean? Let’s take a deeper into why this is such an important concept in the realm of translation.
In the world of content production, projects are often quantified and paid on a “per word” basis. For example, a writer might charge a flat fee of $200 for 1000 written words, making that writer’s rate $0.20 per word. Voice actors may also charge a rate per spoken word. For example, a 1000 word project might take roughly 6 or 7 minutes to record. Instead of coming up with an hourly rate and dividing that rate to arrive at a fee for a 7 minute recording, the voice actor could charge a flat rate of $200 for the 1000 word session. That results in the same $0.20 per word rate as the writer would charge.
Translation rate per word, therefore, would be the fee that a translator charges for every word he translates within a given project.
The benefit of charging a per word rate as opposed to an hourly rate for various content production services is that it makes it easier to come up with fees for projects where the scope might not be clear-cut right off the bat.
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This article was updated in April 2021
For small, fixed-scope projects, using an hourly rate would probably work fine.
If you approach a translator, for example, with a simple written article that contains exactly 1000 words, he would likely be able to tell you roughly how long the translation will take. In cases like this, an hourly rate would be just fine. If he charges $40 an hour and estimates that the project will take 3 hours to complete, your fee will be around $120. If he takes a little bit more or less time, it likely won’t affect either of you all that much because the room for error is so small.
However, what if you have a novel of 53,247 words? And, what if some of those words are complex idioms that only make sense in one region, but would be total gibberish in another part of the world? Perhaps, even, you might consider the possibility of having this translator work on a few additional chapters as you write them over time.
Using a per word rate instead of an hourly rate for larger projects or projects of unknown scope will almost always be better for both you and your translator.
In this example, the translator would scratch his head and have very little idea of how long the project might take him to complete. If you expect an accurate quote of his fees before he begins work, he might struggle to give you an answer for how much you should budget based on an hourly rate.
This example translator works for $40 an hour, so his quoted rate could vary by hundreds of dollars based on a rough guess of how much time he thinks the project would take to complete.
If he underestimates how long the translation will take, he runs the risk of spending several unpaid hours translating your project because he did not give you an accurate idea of how much to budget. If he quotes too high, however, he must either overcharge you to reach the quoted budget or finish the project ahead of schedule and earn much less money for the job than he anticipated, because it went quickly. Either way, one of you will lose out in this scenario.
If, instead, he provides a fee estimate based on a flat translation rate per word, things become much simpler. If you know your starting word count is 53,247 and his translation rate per word is $0.20, the total fee for the project in its current scope should be $10,649.40. And, if you know that each chapter in your novel comes out to an average of 1500 words, he can estimate that each additional chapter you tack on will cost another $300.
This allows you to budget accordingly from the very beginning. It also ensures that your translator will receive his expected compensation regardless of how many hours the translation actually takes. It’s simpler and better for both of you.
What translation rate per word should you expect to pay for your project?
Our above rate of $0.20 per word was used as an example because it is a simple flat rate that is easy to calculate. The actual translation rate per word for your project could be much more or much less based on factors like the translation service you choose and the language being translated.
The American Translators Association recommended a minimum translation rate per word of $0.12 as of 2017. This metric does not take into consideration the language or difficulty level of the text at all, because it assumes this would be the bare minimum any translator should charge. They recommend this minimum to account for the training and certifications that qualified translators often hold as credentials before they begin taking on translation jobs.
Of course, if you choose to look for freelancers, especially newcomers to the translation arena, you will likely find translation rates much lower than $0.12 per word. When you hire a translator for $0.01 to $0.05 per word, you run the risk that he or she is not an experienced, high-quality translator. In best-case scenarios, the translations could be adequate. But in worst-case scenarios, the translation might not make any sense at all in the new language. And, unless you speak that language, how would you know until you have already paid for the work and passed it along to your proofreaders?
What is a good average rate to aim for?
High-quality translation services do (and should) cost more. In return for paying a higher rate, you are ensuring that your content will receive an accurate translation that preserves the original meaning and context of your work. After all, if the emotional connotation and subtleties get lost along the way, what would be the point of even having your work translated in the first place? There is a reason that “lost in translation” is such a common phrase to describe meaning that is not properly conveyed.
Every few years, an aggregate study compares the average translation rate per word of bids submitted to the US government for professional-level projects. While you might not want to pay rates on par with the United States government for a translation of your personal content, this survey does provide an interesting and detailed analysis of rates that different translation firms charge for high-quality work.
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These metrics should give you a good idea of the rates professional translating services charge:
- Spanish translations brought in the cheapest rates in 2019. Translation firms offered rates from $0.09 to $0.32 per word, at an average of $0.18.
- Japanese translations commanded the highest average rate of $0.25. The minimum bid for a Japanese translation came in at $0.14, while the maximum reached a hefty $0.61 per word.
For the full chart with data for the 11 most popular language translation rates, check out this article. They give a good breakdown of average translation rates per firm as well as per language. So if you’re looking to hire a well-known translation service, this list would be a great place to start.
Just as an example…
- Taikatranslations LLC consistently offered the least expensive bids, with an average of just $0.104 per word.
- Language Line’s average bid reached $0.257, the most expensive of the services.
So, let’s apply this math to our original examples.
A 1000 word article translated from English to Spanish using the least expensive bid possible ($0.09 per word) would cost $90. That same 1000 word article translated to Japanese by a company charging the most expensive bid offered ($0.61 per word) would cost $610.
The novel of 53,247 words would cost $4792.23 at the least expensive bid of $0.09 per word. The novel writer could expect an additional $135 for each additional chapter that averages 1500 words.
The highest bid of $0.61 per word would reach a total of $32,480.67 for the finished novel in its original scope. Each additional 1500 word chapter would cost $915.
Why does translation cost this much? Isn’t it a simple process that can be done by computers?
If you have never had any content translated before, the above examples might have your eyes wide with sticker shock. Surely, anyone can copy and paste some text into Google Translate and come up with a translation that is at least passable?
The problem with free and very low-cost translation services is that, essentially, you get what you pay for.
Yes, you might be able to scrape together a “passable” translation that readers in your target language can understand at least well enough to glean some information from your text. But if your work relies at all on the accuracy of its phrasing, emotional undertones, or context, think twice before you cheap out on the translation process.
Think about the last time you came across a terrible translation. It might have been in the instruction brochure for a product you purchased, or it could have been a webpage that auto-translated to your language based on your browser settings.
Was reading that awful, choppy translation an enjoyable experience? Likely not.
Most people would toss the brochure in the trash or opt for a different web page. If you did decide to tough it out and try to read the text, you probably had more than a few moments of confusion or puzzled laughter at how in the world a professional company managed to send such an awful translation out into the world for real customers to read.
Now, imagine readers making that judgment about your content.
Spending a higher translation rate per word might make your wallet ache in the short term. But over the long term, delivering high-quality translations to your audience around the world helps grow your brand and cast your content in a much more favorable light.
Additional reading on translation services for content creators
- If you deal mostly in audio content rather than text content, read up on the specifics in The Value of Audio Translation.
- If you’re considering having your work read aloud by a voice actor, check out Voiceover Words Per Minute: Choosing the Ideal Information Rate.
And, of course, if you need a translation done well, quick, and with great rates, hit us up right now!