Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Translation rates and charges – what you are paying for

When you request a translation quote, you are given a price you probably do not understand. You also want to know why translators ask you about the number of words in your document, why the type of file matters and why some translators ask for a minimum charge.
Let us then take a closer look at what you are paying for when it comes to translation.

                                                What’s in a price?

It would seem obvious that when requesting a translation service you are paying strictly for the act of translating your document into another language. This is not always the case. 

Performance of a translation project involves tasks such as project management and proofreading – both of which tend to be included in the quoted price. Freelance translators do their project management by themselves and what you are paying for is their time to make a quote, exchange emails with you, prepare the document for translation, then translate it, edit and proofread the final draft, then there is delivery of the final translation, QA process, prepare the invoice, process payment, make a record of the completed project, bookkeeping etc. Mind you, when dealing with a translation agency, you pay for all those tasks being done by different people employed by the agency.

Some translators, when making a quote, may take into consideration their high qualifications and experience. This also applies to other professions when you pay the expert not only for the job itself but also for knowing how to do it. Therefore, you might expect that the higher the price, the better quality translation you will receive. Sadly though, this is not always the case, and you might get a horrible translation from someone whose rates are way above the others. What is very likely, however, is that a ridiculously low quote will mean that you are dealing with someone not sufficiently qualified. Tread carefully.

Per word / per line / per page

The way the translation cost is calculated varies from country to country and from language to language. The most common method is counting the amount of words in the source (original) document and multiplying it by the rate for each word. This is mostly used in the UK and the United States. In Germany, you will be charged per line, which consists of 55 characters, including spaces. Whereas in Poland and Bulgaria, translators will give you a quote based on the amount of pages, where a page includes 1800 characters with spaces.

Those differences in methods of calculation are very often a reflection of the discrepancies in the word count in the source and target document. Depending on a language pair and the direction of translation, the translated text will come out as shorter or longer than the original. I asked a few professional translators who work in different language pairs and all of them had a clear idea of how the discrepancies in the word count affect their fees. They agreed that a universal method of calculating the translation cost would be simply unfair. Christopher Sullivan said that charging a client per word for German to English translations would be unfeasible; words such as "Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaft” take up almost half a line and their English equivalents are several words long.
For the same reason, Margarida Cabral Bernardo charges her clients per line for the same language pair. She also said that because of the differences in the word count, some years ago “it was common sense among translators to charge between 10 and 15% more when translating into Latin based languages - i.e. Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French”. Some translators still add a few percent to their rates for these languages.

Perhaps by the hour?

The charges based on the word count, although widely used and transparent, are not appropriate for more creative translation projects. These mostly include slogans, adverts and marketing messages that require transcreation rather than translation, and therefore, take much more time and effort to be rendered in another language. Therefore, for transcreation projects you may be charged per hour rather than per word but this would have to be set out before the agreement between you and the translator is made.

What is a minimum charge?

Minimum charge (also called minimum fee) is a fixed charge for very small projects, i.e. up to 150-300 words. The word count that constitutes the upper limit of small projects differs from translator to translator. 
The minimum charge covers the administrative work involved in the project. Let’s say, you ask a translator to translate a 50-word email. The job itself is worth a few pounds or euros, but the process of making a quote, the following email exchange, invoicing and payment process take time. Therefore, even if all those tasks would take only an hour, the translator would earn just a few pounds for a 1-hour service.
Very often, the minimum charge is used only for one-off projects. Regular clients, especially if they are invoiced monthly for regular projects usually pay the actual price for the job itself and even may get a few word translation free of charge!

Additional charges

Projects that require additional service or are urgent may require some additional charges. Many translators charge additional 25% - 50% if a translation needs to be done overnight or over the weekend.

You might also expect to pay up to 30% more for some PDF files or other non-editable files that are not supported by translation software. Many translators use special software that allows them to translate segment by segment – this guarantees efficiency, consistency and lack of omissions. If the use of the software is impossible because of the file type, translation will be much more time consuming.

Some translators offer desktop publishing as an additional service but charge for it accordingly. It requires an additional skill and takes extra time to recreate let’s say a brochure than just translate its content. 

Similarly to the minimum charge, the additional charge may not apply to existing clients, but this would depend on the project. However, if your trusted translator is asking you for an additional 50% for a large translation that simply must be completed by Monday, it is worth paying for that peace of mind that the document will be on your desk when you come to the office on Monday morning.


With the differences between methods of calculating the translation cost, the endless variety of projects and additional services that may be required for successful completion of a translation, it is important for translators to make their quotes transparent and to keep their clients properly informed about the actual costs of translation.

If you have any questions, as to what you might expect in terms of the costs, please ask a question in the comment section or alternatively email me on info@transliteria.co.uk.


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