How to Estimate the Cost of a Translation: Understanding Translation Pricing
To those outside the industry, the world of translation can be a confusing one. So can be estimating the cost of a translation. There are many elements that are totally unique to language service providers in terms of both the product they offer and how they operate.
As a result, there are no real industry norms when it comes to translation pricing. While some translation associations have issued guidelines, these are mostly general in nature and don’t really help the individual buyer understand the translation market or how to find a good translation price.
From translation technology to specialised translation, the aspects to consider when choosing a pricing structure are many and varied, so we’ve put together a translation pricing guide to help you understand the cost of translation and make an informed decision about your project.
How does your translator determine the cost of a translation?
For language service providers – whether they are freelancers, translation agencies, or a hybrid like Crisol – there are a number of ways to go about charging for translation services. Each model is effective for different types of translation projects and varying translation needs. For example, a one-time translation of a birth certificate is going to be priced very differently than an ongoing project like website localisation.
As a client, you should make it your business to understand the pricing structures in place when you decide to work with a language services provider. While it isn’t necessary to understand all of the intricate details, it will give you a good idea as to how your translation provider is determining their costs.
Translation pricing models
Per word, per line, per character, per thousand words, per page, per hour, per project… the options when it comes to translation pricing seem endless. In reality, there are only a few common ways that translation providers determine their fees:
Charging per word vs. per hour
Perhaps the two most frequent pricing structures in the translation industry are charging per word and per hour. While each is extremely effective for both language service providers and their clients, they can be called into use at different times.
If you are charged per word, whether your translator takes 2 hours or 10 hours, you pay the same price. This tends to be the most popular pricing structure for translators and clients alike. Either if the source text is very concise and to the point or if its content is rather dense, you only pay for the number of words in the source (i.e., the original) text. Pricing by word also has the advantage that it’s the easiest translation pricing structure for clients to understand, and it enables them to know the exact amount they will be charged before the translation project starts. In general terms, most translators can translate between 250-300 words per hour. But that’s not the case for all projects.
Taking into account all variables, this pricing structure can end up not being entirely accurate or fair, as other aspects such as the level of difficulty of the text, the amount of research required, or the need for specialised translation can drive up the number of hours worked without necessarily increasing the word count.
For this reason, if your project has very special requirements, it needs delivery in an unusual format, or if the source text is not an editable file, your translation provider may charge you by the hour. This has to do with the difficulty to predict the complete amount of time the task will take to complete in advance. Charging by the hour is also common for transcreation projects, where transcreating a 5-word slogan may take the same amount of time – or more – than translating a 500-word document.
Charging per page or per line
Charging per page or per line is usually only the case when the document that needs translating is in a format where the words cannot be counted digitally, such as medical or legal documents. In this case, it’s common for a language service provider to offer a price per page. Though the word count may vary on each page, the standard price protects the translator for the extra time it may take to decipher any handwriting or discrepancies on the page, as they wouldn’t be as clear as digital content.
If your translator has decided they’ll be charging per line, this is what you should know:
- According to the official DIN 2345 European standard, 1 Line = 55 Characters (including spaces) in the Target Language (TL)
The tricky bit starts when we try comparing rates for words and lines: how many words are there in a line? Well, assuming a line is 55 characters with spaces, we can generally assume that:
- German text: 1 line = roughly 8 words
But as English words tend to be a little shorter (nothing really comparable to Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften—the longest German word in everyday use according to the Guinness Book of World Records), it means we get more of them in our 55-character line (with spaces):
- On average, English text: 1 line = roughly 9 or 10 words
In Italy, on the other hand, a common price unit is the cartella. The cartella counts about 25 lines of 50/55 characters (more or less 330/340 words).
When the cost of a translation is per character or thousand words
This is usually the case in literary translation. Also, it is a useful approach for character-based languages such as Chinese, Japanese, etc. For such cases, your translation provider will probably charge you by the following pattern:
- In Chinese, 1 character = 1 word
- In Japanese, on average, 1 character = 1.3 words
Other expenses in a translation project
When it comes to the final price you’ll pay for translation services, there are other potential costs that you may not be aware of and which your translation provider will need to calculate into the final bill. They will (or should) always let you know in advance, but it’s still important to keep these in mind when budgeting for translation services:
File format issues
As mentioned before, the amount of time your translator will spend working on your translation job will depend on your files’ format. The reason is that the translation industry uses a great variety of CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools, which help translation providers save time on their projects when the source text is in a digital format. When this is not the case, the extra time for the files to become editable will be added to your budget.
This is especially the case for some legal documents. If you’re working on a tight budget and your file is not editable, you may want to ask them about the possibility of receiving the text in a different format.
Your translation provider should be able to give you an exact date for the delivery of your translation project, and if they can’t, this is definitely a red flag.
When do you need your translation project delivered? It’s important that you’re clear about this from the start, as it will have an impact on the translation budget.
The reason is that most translation providers have a team of in-house translators and also work with a network of freelance linguists. Depending on your project’s deadline, your translation provider may need to assign more than one linguistic professional to work on it. They will also have to organise their schedule not to end up working after-hours, weekends, or during holidays, which will have an impact on their translation quote.
In a nutshell, if you require a translation urgently, your translation provider will probably charge you an extra fee for the rush service unless they are light on projects at that particular time.
Have you hired editing and proofreading on top of translation services?
For most translation projects, it is advisable to hire translation services plus editing and proofreading, in a 3-step process known as TEP.
Editing involves comparing the target (i.e., translated) text with the source (i.e., original) text, making sure that the meaning has been accurately conveyed, that terminology is consistent, and that the client’s brief has been followed. This is usually carried out by a second linguist, who was not involved in the translation process. The editor will also look for errors such as typos, omissions, repetitions, grammar mistakes, sloppy style, etc.
Proofreading is the last step in the translation process and it implies checking the target text without referring to the source text. You might wonder why you need to hire someone to proofread a text that has already been edited, but it’s actually very common for small errors to slip through the cracks. Proofreading is important because it’s the last quality control step in the translation process and it’s a constituent of most translation jobs. The proofreader will check that there are no errors in grammar, spelling, or style and that the text reads smoothly and sounds natural in the target language.
Despite the benefits of proofreading and editing, some translation providers don’t offer these services by default. If that’s the case, you may need to request them explicitly and they will probably charge you an extra fee for it. Moreover, if you’re working on a tight budget, you may want to consider skipping the proofreading step – obviously at your own peril!
What about discounts?
There are certain discounts that may apply to your translation quote. A translation provider will usually offer a discount for larger projects or for regular clients who send them a high volume of continuous work
Furthermore, some translation providers offer discounts for non-profit organisations or for projects with a social impact. If this is the case, make sure that you mention it when requesting your translation quote so that they can apply the discount to your project.
Some translation agencies use CAT tools to get a breakdown of how many words or phrases in a project are repeated from previous translation projects or within the same translation project. In this way, they can offer a discount for so-called translation memory (TM) matches. However, we don’t agree with this translation pricing strategy as it trickles down to the linguists working on your translation project, who are usually not fairly compensated for their work.
Still searching for a translation provider?
Make sure you get quotes from several translation providers before making your final decision. Apart from translation cost, there are other factors that you need to take into account when choosing a translation partner such as quality, industry expertise, customer service, etc.
At Crisol Translation Services, we pride ourselves on our 100 % transparency in pricing structures for our clients. For a quote on your project or document, email us at email@example.com or send us a message here.
Author: Maria Scheibengraf
Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.