The way translators and translation agencies calculate their translation rates must seem like some form of voodoo to many clients; you’re supposed to fill out an online form in order to “get a free quote”, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a call back soon.
How the translation agency arrived at that number often seems like an enigma. Is there a logic to it, or did they just type some random figures into a calculator?
It’s no wonder why many clients are put off by the lack of transparency when it comes to the rates for quality translations.
Many would rather try their luck with machine translation, or would use an unverified service, inevitably resulting in a below-par end product.
How translation rates are calculated
A professional translation agency will take into account a number of factors when quoting rates, giving you an accurate figure, not just a random one plucked from thin air.
Translation projects are usually quoted as per the word count, and the source and target languages are key factors when it comes to calculating the rate.
Certain language pairs are much more common and affordable than others.
Supply and demand, as well as the cost of living in the respective countries, are factored into the price.
The translation community proz.com offers a list of average rates, based on information provided by their users.
Rates per word can vary wildly, from about 12p a word for common pairs, up to twice that price for more rare or difficult languages, such as Icelandic or Swiss German.
Level of specialisation
The second most important factor in calculating translation rates for any given text, is the level of difficulty.
A relatively routine text that relies on a familiar vocabulary and short sentences, that can be easily grasped by a general audience, will be quoted at a lower rate than an extremely technical document, that requires a lot of research or knowledge of specific jargon, or context.
Technical translations, and medical or legal documents take more effort to get right, therefore commanding higher rates accordingly.
Gut Ding will Weile haben” is a German proverb that translates to “Rome wasn’t built in a day.
A quality translation can take just as much time as it took to create the source text.
Nevertheless, translators everywhere are all too familiar with clients who only spare an afterthought for this process, with some giving it no consideration whatsoever. More often than not, this results in turnaround times that require long nights or weekends.
Moreover, rushed jobs at a high-quality, will increase the cost of your project.
As the famous diagram says, you can have it “fast”, “good”, or “cheap”, but you have to pick two of the three. Make sure you plan for a realistic delivery time, or get ready to pay a premium.
Repeat projects and translation memories
As mentioned earlier, more specialised texts can require a fair amount of research, so that the translator understands the context, and so that they can ensure technical jargon is used correctly.
Cultural considerations and localisation may also take extra time and effort.
The upside of this process is that once this work has been done, subsequent texts of a similar nature can be translated more efficiently.
Translators who keep working on a long-term, ongoing project, can rely on translation memories and project glossaries, which cut down on time and cost.
Professional proofreading should be included in any translation quote, but a number of other factors can also affect the price of your translation. Are your files in a peculiar format that requires extra effort?
It is important to remember that PowerPoint presentations, XML documents, or InDesign layouts may add to your total.
Audio transcriptions, software internationalisation, and the translation of web apps and other professional services, are almost sure to incur additional charges.
As you can see, there is no voodoo involved in the calculation of translation rates, but the factors involved can be as varied and as complex as the language itself.
That’s why a reputable translation agency won’t give you a “one price fits all” quote, without having a closer look at your project, and its specific requirements.