Customer Pain Point: Translation Costs

A woman calculating the costs of a translation projectOne of the more difficult pills for customers and prospective customers to swallow when it comes to procuring translation services is the cost. While translation costs have come down in recent years due in part to an increase in competition in the industry as well as the implementation of new technology solutions such as computer-assisted translation (CAT) and machine translation (MT), many clients still experience “sticker shock” when they start receiving quotes for their translation or localization project.

The most important thing for customers and prospective customers to understand when it comes to translation costs is for what, exactly, they are paying. When it comes to setting their translation rates, many translation providers use complex systems of cost-plus versus competitive pricing. Regardless of which system a translation provider uses, though, is that the standard “per word” rates typically include the cost for translation and editing.

Each step in the translation and editing process is performed by separate linguists who are in turn paid a per word rate. The rate also includes overhead (operating costs, such as project management) and profit margin. For more complex projects, some translation and localization providers will charge an additional project management fee. Costs for additional services, such as formatting/desktop publishing (DTP) will also incur additional “per page” or hourly costs.

Considering the number of people actually involved in what many customers may assume is a much simpler process, one can see why costs may be higher than anticipated. After all, a simple document translation may go through 4-5 sets of hands during the process, each of whom must be considered when determining costs, as well as the profit that a company must earn per project.

Nevertheless, there are several steps that customers can take to help manage translation costs:

1. Prepare your document for translation. This could mean anything from deleting extra spaces or extraneous content that does not need to be translated (such as charts/figures that contain numbers) to spending a few minutes to find the original MS Word version of the PDF file you have. For the latter, since a PDF is not a “native” file, extra costs could be incurred to re-format the document. If you can find the document in its original format, you can save on additional formatting costs.

2. Consider your turnaround time. Almost everyone wants to get their project completed “as soon as possible.” However, the more time you can provide for translation, the less you will pay since translation companies often charge a premium for “rush” (expedited) translations. Also, if you tell your translation provider that you need the translation completed “right away,” your definition of “right away” and theirs may be quite different. If you let them know specifically when you need it, they will price their quote accordingly, and if you can afford more time (even just one more day), it may make a huge difference.

3. Ask about Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools. CAT tools are software programs that assist translators by leveraging previously translated or repetitious content in a document (or series of documents), and these savings can be passed along to the customer. If you have a large volume of documents to be translated that contain repetitious content or that are updated regularly, using CAT tools for your translations can save considerably on costs.

4. Ask about Machine Translation (MT) options. Many customers are wary when it comes to utilizing MT technology. Of course, MT is not a replacement for human translators. There are too many nuances to language that cannot be replicated accurately or effectively through machine translation. However, many advances have been made in recent years, including the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the quality of MT output has increased significantly. Many translation providers are now utilizing MT as the first stage in the “TEP” process outlined above, with human editors and proofreaders providing the quality control and clean-up.

However, this does not mean using Google Translate to translate your document and asking the translation company to edit the translation. Translation providers who offer MT technology use specially designed MT engines to provide their MT output, which provides much higher quality than the “free” translation tools available online. Also, as the research and development of these MT engines are often extremely expensive, don’t expect the MT portion of the translation to be free, but it will be less than using a human translator.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for additional discounts. Translation providers are often willing to lower prices for a variety of reasons, such as for large volumes of work or guaranteed future work. If you are hunting for a translation provider and expect to have on-going needs, be sure to ask if they have discounted rates for regular customers. Just be sure to give them a reasonable expectation of work volumes!

In summary, many customers are surprised when it comes time to receive quotes for their translation projects. However, translation customers must keep in mind the many hands that will be touching their documents throughout the translation workflow and lifecycle. That is not to mention the expense of using professional, certified translators and editors who have spent years honing their linguistic skills and technical subject matter expertise. Nevertheless, customers can save considerably on translation costs by implementing some of the cost-savings measures outlined above.