How Much Does a Translation Cost?

When it comes to purchasing translation services, one of the first questions a prospective client asks is how much is the translation going to cost. What is important to understand for clients, however, is that unlike typical commodities and services, the cost for a translation is highly variable.

One study conducted in 2018 attempted to determine average translation rates. However, since translation companies normally do not publicize their commercial pricing lists, the study was only able to examine the publicly available General Services Administration (GSA) contracts with the government.

The problem with this approach is that government contractors represent a minuscule cross-section of the language industry, and since GSA providers are required to provide the federal government with their lowest pricing, it is not a good indicator of industry averages or even the pricing that these providers offer to commercial sector clients. Therefore, what may be more useful before soliciting a quote from a translation company is to understand better what goes into the cost of a translation than the rates themselves.

The overwhelming majority of translation companies charge translations on a “per word” basis, not “per page” or “per hour.” Furthermore, the per-word rate charged to clients is not simply the translator’s cost and the company’s profit margin. Translation providers determine their per-word rates based on a careful analysis of a variety of factors:

1. Language Pair & Direction

Almost all translation companies have a tiered pricing structure, with certain languages costing more than others. This is simply a matter of supply and demand. Spanish translations, for example, are usually much less expensive than Burmese translations due to a large number of professional Spanish translators versus the relative scarcity of qualified Burmese translations. As more qualified resources become available for certain languages, the price tends to decrease over time.

2. Quality Control

In addition to the cost for a translator, the rate also includes the cost for a separate editor and proofreader. This amounts to three professional linguists working on every translation project. Also, linguists with varying technical subject matter expertise and certifications usually cost more than linguists with more general expertise. Therefore, if your material is highly technical or specialized, the cost for the translation and quality control will often be higher.

3. Administration, Project Management & Overhead

When a client submits a document for translation, someone has to select a translator, editor, and proofreader to complete the project, ensure that the company’s quality control standards have been followed and deadlines met, respond to client questions, and when the project has been completed, send an invoice to the client. There is also usually a dedicated individual or team that recruits, vets, and hires independent contractor linguists. All of these and other overhead costs must be factored into the per-word cost of a translation.

4. Local Market Factors

Where a translation company is located also affects the rates they charge. Simply put, a translation company located in New York City is likely to charge more than a company located in Cincinnati as the cost of living is substantially different in these two cities, and therefore the company located in New York City would have higher administrative and overhead costs (e.g., office space, employee salaries, etc.).

In conclusion, there are many factors involved in determining the cost of a translation and a company’s per word rate often does not show the whole picture. Translation companies also frequently provide discounts based on volume, the use of Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools, and more. Therefore, when you want to know how much does a translation cost, the best way is to send your document(s) and request a quote and even ask your provider what that rate includes to make sure you are getting the most for your money.