Translation: Understanding Per-word Rates

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.

Language translation is a professional service, similar to the ones provided by accountants, lawyers, and designers. However, unlike those services, translation is generally priced by the word, rather than by the hour. In this post, I will share some factors that affect translation pricing and suggest how you can negotiate with prospective translation providers.

What Influences the Price You Pay for Translation?

There are several factors that a translation provider takes into account when quoting a price for a specific project.

  • Number of services offered. More than one service can be incorporated in the price. A per-word rate for translation may include only the work of the translator to render text from one language into another. Or, it may include such tasks as project management, editing, proofing, and management of already translated terms and phrases — i.e., translation memory.
  • Language(s). Translation providers tend to charge less for languages that are the most commonly used in business, because there are usually more translators available to do the work. For example, English to Swedish will generally cost you more than English to Spanish; Chinese to English will often be priced at a lower rate than Chinese to Japanese or Chinese to Korean.
  • Content type. There are several content-related parameters that may affect what a translation vendor will charge you. If content contains a large amount of specialized vocabulary — e.g., installation manuals for solar panels or financial documents for an initial public offering — you should expect to pay more.
  • Number of words. Word counts can be misleading in terms of the final cost for a translation project. It may take longer and require more expensive resources to produce a translated tagline for a marketing campaign than several thousand words of ordinary web content. Conversely, the more content that you can send to your translation provider regularly, the more likely the provider will offer a discount.
  • Turnaround time. If you require expedited or rush service, you will probably be charged a premium.
  • Services in addition to translation. Language-related services like desktop publishing, dubbing, and international software testing, are often charged by the hour — see the list below.

Services Often Requested by the Hour

Translation providers often take on additional tasks beyond translating content. These services are typically charged by the hour. In “How to Write Translation Requests for Proposals,” a report from my employer, Common Sense Advisory, we cite common, per-hour services.

  • Audio transcription
  • Copywriting
  • Cultural assessment and adaptation
  • Dialog resizing
  • Glossary building
  • Graphics handling
  • Help translation
  • Internationalization engineering
  • Linguistic testing or QA
  • Localization of marketing materials
  • Localization testing
  • Screen captures
  • Software localization
  • Studio post-production
  • Subtitling
  • Style guide preparation
  • Terminology management
  • Translation memory (TM) alignment
  • TM management and maintenance
  • Video localization
  • Voice-over
  • XML file handling

What Is a Fair Price for Translation?

In spite of the wide variation in translation prices, here are two things you can do to obtain a reasonable rate.

  1. Get your own content act together. It’s up to you as the buyer to clearly specify and confirm exactly what services you require from potential vendors. Take an inventory of the content to be translated. Document the number of words, required languages, special requirements, and so on. Your goal should be to take as much guesswork out of the process as possible, so that potential suppliers can quote accurately on your project. That way, you can compare the various prices submitted. It also makes it possible to explore the new portals that allow you to submit projects directly online to be quoted and then translated.
  2. Become familiar with translation needs across your company. Even if your business is a small one, you may discover that a team member has engaged a translation provider in the past or needs one now. If the timing is right, collect your colleague’s requirements and coordinate your vendor search and negotiation efforts so that you receive the best price possible.

Actual Per-word Rates

Translation prices vary widely, based on the factors listed above. Common Sense Advisory’s 2012 survey of more than 3,700 suppliers in 114 countries, using 220 language pairs, found that the average per-word rate for translation for the 30 most commonly used languages on the web is around 13.4 cents. However, armed with the information and advice that I have shared here, you can negotiate fair prices with potential translation providers.

Rebecca Ray
Rebecca Ray
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