The world of linguistics and professional translation services can be confusing, and pricing is an element that is intimidating to a lot of people. There are so many factors that determine cost and pricing, and it can be hard to think of them all unless you are in the industry. While many people think it is simply the number of words that
In this blog, we will look at some of the most common factors that affect pricing in the translation process, and help you know how much a linguistic service is worth, whether you want to get a translation of a document, or whether you are thinking of joining the ranks of translation service providers.
Humans vs Machines
One of the largest factors in the cost of translation services is whether the translation project is being handled by a computer or a professional translator. Most people are probably aware of Machine Translations, even if they may not know it by that name – Google Translate is the most commonly used machine translation software, though there are others.
Machine translation memory rundown
Machine translation works by translating single words or short phrases which have been programmed into it – this is known as the translation memory of the AI. These translation memories are based on previously translated phrases, and this means that the computer can ‘learn’ new phrases over time, but that anything outside its translation memories may not be translated accurately.
The document translation cost can vary a lot between human professional translators and machine translation. Most machine translation services will be cheaper. Some will even be free. This can be a very tempting option if you want to cut down costs.
You can also look at computer-assisted translations, where human translators use CAT tools to speed up the process of translating a source document. This is a middle ground which is often more expensive than getting a document translated by a computer, but cheaper than having a fully human-led translation process.
On the flip side, we have to consider accuracy. An expert translator will usually give a high-quality translation with a higher accuracy rate than a computer. This is because a computer can only rely on its translation memory. If the translation memory does not recognize a word it will fail to translate a section. If the computer has previously translated segments of writing in a certain way, it will continue to translate that segment the same way, even if that is not accurate or relevant in your document.
Again, you can look at computer-assisted translation options. A trained translator using CAT tools will not only be cheaper than fully human translation agencies, but it should mean that the professional translator helps find any errors made by the computer. However, you may find that errors still slip through, as the human translator may not double-check everything thoroughly enough.
The choice is yours
Ultimately, you need to decide which of these paths is best for your business or your translation needs. You can often get quotes of translation pricing for different options with just a few clicks on many websites, to help you decide which is best suited to your needs and your budget.
Costs of translation services
Once you have decided which type of translation is best for you, you may still find that the translation price varies greatly. Other factors influence the translation rates as well, and it is hard to guess average translation rates without taking these into consideration.
Obviously, the cost of the translation service will depend on exactly what is being done, but what does that actually mean? The length and type of translation project are the biggest factors, but other factors include;
How language can affect translation cost
Not all languages are created equally, and the language pair (that is, your source language and target language) you choose can sometimes affect the price of the translation service.
This mostly happens with uncommon languages, which may not be covered by all translation companies. If you have to find a specialist company for a certain language combination, it may lead to higher document translation costs.
Another factor is how many languages you need your document translated into. Most translation services are charged per word, so if each word needs to be translated twice, the cost will be higher.
However, you may find it more cost-effective to find one multilingual translation agency that can offer all the languages you need, rather than using a different translation company for each target language – at the very least, even if the translation rate is not better, you will save yourself a lot of time and hassle.
Certified translation or standard translation
You also need to consider what kind of translation services you need. If you need certified translations, you may find the charge is higher. It may seem tempting to avoid certified translations for this reason, but you absolutely need a sworn translation for official documents such as marriage certificates, birth certificates, or legal documents, so the extra charge is worth it.
Whether you use a translator certified by the American Translators Association or another certified translator, you want to make sure you get a perfect translation for your important documents.
Some document translation services are considered specialist subjects. These are generally anything where the subject matter of the original document has specialist language, meaning you need a translator who has experience in that field in order to properly understand the document.
The per-word price that translators charge for these specialist subjects is often higher to reflect the experience they have in that field.
What type of translation project needs a specialists?
Think of any field where there is industry-specific terminology. These fields will need specialist translation services. However, there are also some which may not seem obvious straight away;
Medical translations are one of the most obvious areas with specialized terminology. It is always important to make sure medical translations are accurate – sometimes it can be a matter of life or death.
From court documents to business contracts or similar documents, legal documents use a lot of Latin terminology and special phrasing. Again, this kind of document may have higher document translation rates.
Technical fields also need a lot of experience to translate. Technical manuals, user guides, engineering specifications, and other technical information can all take longer to translate due to the specialized nature of the information, which can again lead to a higher document translation cost.
Marketing may not seem like a specialist field compared to legal, medical, or technical, but it is still vital to find the right translators for these jobs – marketing needs to be snappy and appeal well to your target audience, which means you need a translator with experience working within marketing for the specific international market you want to target. Again, this often means finding a translation vendor with the right experience, and possibly paying more.
Documents with specific layouts
If you need a document laid out properly, this can also add to the cost. Many professionals will simply supply translated documents as an MS Word file or another file format. However, if you need to translate a document and keep the layout the same, you may need to pay more.
Again, you would be paying for the skill and expertise that the translator has in laying out the document properly. The price may be offputting, but it is another cost of translation that is well worth it for what you get out.
Translation costs per word, or per piece?
One thing that often confuses people when they want to find someone to translate documents is how the translation quote is calculated.
There are multiple options that different translation companies choose to base their rates on. Some will charge per word (charging based on the number of words), while some will charge per page or per piece.
Usually, the best way to make sure you are getting a good rate for your translations is to find somewhere that chargers per word. However, you may find that some places which charge based per piece may be cheaper if you have a high word count. Be warned though, because;
You get what you pay for
If a translation quote seems too low, you may not get the great service you need for your business. The old adage holds true that you get what you pay for.
Higher-cost services offering specialist translators, certified translation services, or rare language pairs can all justify their cost, and often paying the higher rates is the only way to get a perfect translation.
Agency, freelancer, or in-house
After looking through all this, you may wonder if there are better ways to get translations done. There are of course multiple options.
If you need a lot of translations done, you may find that the cost of hiring someone in the translation industry each time adds up. You could look to hire an in-house translator, though you need to be sure that the cost is less over time than hiring someone for each translated text.
If you aren’t quite at that stage, you can still choose between an agency or a freelance professional translator. Both of these can offer high-quality translations, but you may find that they charge different rates. The rates for freelancers often vary much more than rates for an agency, but you will also find that the quality of translation varies too.
As ever, you really do get what you pay for, and the translation industry is no expectation.
Frequently asked questions
Some of the most common questions we get asked about translation costs are below;
Do all professional translators charge the same?
No, translation costs vary greatly based on the experience of the translator and any specialties they have.
Will machine translations get better?
Many people want to use machine translations due to the lower translation rates. However, the lack of accuracy is a concern. This will improve over time, but it is hard to say how soon – if ever – a computer will be able to outdo a trained professional translator.
Can I outsource translations for lower costs?
Another route that people try to take is outsourcing translations to areas with cheaper cost of living, and thus lower costs. However, it is always best to make sure you use a native-speaking translator in order to get the best translation possible.
How much should I charge to translate a document?
If you are a professional translator, or someone looking to offer translation services, it can be hard to know how to price your services. There are many factors to consider. You need to make sure that you are paid fairly for your time and your experience. It can be easiest to figure out how much to charge based on the word count of the document – work out how many words you can translate on average per hour, and work out your cost-per-word from that.
As with any freelance work though, you need to consider your cost of living, your overheads, and your target income, all of which will vary from place to place.
Of course, you can also look at the average cost of translators in your region and skillset, which can help give you a general idea of how much to charge.
How do I find the best translation?
You might be thinking that you need the best, regardless of the cost. That is often a good approach to take with important documents, especially legal paperwork, medical documents, and other official documents.
Accepting a higher per-page cost or a higher word price can attract better translators and get you a better translation, but what are the things to look out for?
Native tongue translation
Often, the best translations come from native speakers of the language pair. This means that they are fluent in your original language, and are a native speaker of the language you need your documents translated into.
Using a native tongue translator means that they will get the nuance and finesse perfectly in the final translated document. As a warning though, they can indeed cost more.
Experience and training
The best translators will be properly trained and have experience working professionally in translation, particularly working within the language combination you need.
It is always worth making sure that the translator you use has lots of good reviews from previous clients. This should be rather self-explanatory, but avoiding companies or freelancers with bad reviews can help avoid a headache – or the potential of getting a poor translation. If you do end up with a sub-par translation, you may have to pay to get it fixed and edited, which can end up costing more in the long run.
While it is hard to pin down an exact figure for how much translation services cost, hopefully, this blog has helped explain the reasoning and given you factors to consider when gauging the pricing of translation services.
This knowledge can be useful whether you are looking to have documents translated or if you are planning to offer translation services yourself, as the general idea stays the same.