When we shop, we shop mainly based on price. There’s no problem doing so when buying something material, as all prices are displayed and one can usually tell if quality justifies the price on the tag. But when shopping for a service, how can one estimate if the cost reflects the quality of said services? Moreover, since a service is not tangible, i.e. there are no visible material costs, the client’s budget and the professional’s quote rarely match.
Translation services are no different and the debate on translation costs will never come to a solution, simply because there are too many factors that influence the cost of a translation.
However, we can still have a conversation about it. So… how much does a translation cost? And why? Let’s find out.
Content1. Factors that influence the cost of a translation 2. What are you paying for 3. How much does marketing translation cost? 4. How much does literary translation cost? 5. How much does machine translation post-editing cost? 6. Conclusions
You came here for a number, but I can’t give you that. What will get if you stick until the end of this blog post are a series of average prices for each type of translation: as there is no translator’s union that regulates our market, there can’t be one unified price for translation services. Every translator sets his or her own prices according to a lot of factors.
Some of them are:
- Language combination: translation from or into a language that is rarer, results in higher costs.
- Location of the service provider: what is little money for me, may be a lot for another translator based in a different country. Rent, bills and expenses for food are not the same in all countries… they are not even the same between two cities of the same country!
- Degree of specialization: a more specialized translator will demand higher prices for the particular services he or she offers. And he or she is damn right to do so. We all agree on that, don’t we?
- Equipment cost: just because a translation is immaterial, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any costs involved in “producing it”. Many translators use software that helps them deliver better and faster translations and to manage big projects. Sadly, the best ones are pricey.
- Personal hourly rate: each person values time differently, has a different lifestyle or wants different luxuries. So, although everybody is free to set the hourly price they like, the average goes from 22 to 30 euros an hour for translators living in Europe
One common misconception about translators is that they just need as much time to translate a sentence as the one necessary to read it.
I wish it were true!
It may happen, but that’s the exception, not the norm. Being well versed in another language does not mean that we are able to spew words automatically from one idiom to another like a machine.
To assure the best quality, a translator usually goes over your texts three times. Here what really happens:
- Before translating, a lot of professionals set up their CAT tool of choice. A CAT tool is a software that saves your own past works into translation memories and uses them to give you suggestions for your current work. It doesn’t translate for you, but it makes a translator’s job a bit easier by detecting equal or similar sentences and showing how they have been translated in the past: it improves the workflow and assures consistency of terms. To set up a project in such software doesn’t take forever, but it still time that should be accounted for.
- Now it is time to translate, which involves a lot of research. Even specialized translator need some time to research what is the best term we can adopt to describe your product while being considerate of your values and style.
- When a translation is complete, one must revise it. During this phase, the translator will carefully compare the source (given) text with the target (translated) text to spot any mistake or missing sentences.
- We’re not done. After revision comes proofreading. This is usually done only on the target (translated) text to check for style or spelling errors.
Now that you know what kind of work goes into a translation, we are ready to discuss prices.
Let’s start discussing the translation of marketing materials such as Amazon listings, product descriptions, advertisement campaign and so forth.
For a marketing translation with English as the source language, rates go from a minimum of 0.06€ to a maximum of 0.14€ per source word. The average marketing translation cost will then be 0.10€ per source word.
These prices are valid for other industries, such as tourism, food and beverage, cosmetics, telecommunication, software and website translation.
My rate for a marketing translation from English and German to Italian starts at 0.08€
Such a small number, quickly adds up, and one can easily be appalled by the final bill, especially when one has a project that needs to be translated into more than a foreign language.
With literary translation we define any type of translation for the publishing industry: it certainly entails novels, but also non-fiction books, short stories, children books, poetry, comics, newspaper articles and essays. This type of translation is actually more difficult than a technical one: to find the proper translation of very obscure technical terms, all you need is good research, but to properly and effectively translate colloquialism, creativity and lateral thinking is a translator’s only weapon… and this takes a lot of time.
For these reasons, literary translation costs can be a bit higher: on ProZ we can see that literary translation rates still go from a minimum of 0.06€ to a maximum of 0.14€ but, on a closer look, we notice that the 0.06€ rate appears less often than before, making the general average more 0.11€ per source word rather than 0.10€.
This means that to translate an average book of 90,000 words from English into another language, one must be prepared to spend at least 5,000€.
A lot? Think of it this way: how much would you want to be paid for a project that will keep you busy full time for (at least) three months?
Machine translation is among us and is getting better every day. Denying that would be simply telling a lie. Luckily, machine translation is not yet as good as a human being, as I demonstrated by testing how good Google Translate is for Italian, and it should always be corrected by a human. The act of editing automatic translated text is called machine translation post-editing, or MTPE for short.
Although a translator must not translate an entire text from scratch, there is a lot to be done when it comes to editing the output (result) of an automatic translation. First of all, the translator will quickly read and assess the general quality of the text; then it will start a deep revision of the translation given and will perform a good amount of research to make sure that the software chose the most appropriate translator for that word used in that context. And, finally, he or she will proofread the work before delivering it.
In short, machine translation does less than half the job for you and the rates should reflect that. Rates suggested by agencies go from a minimum of 0.03€ to a maximum of 0.06€, for an average of 0.045€ per source word.
My rate for machine translation post-editing is 0.05€ per source word.
That’s it folks: this is not an ultimate guide on translation prices as there can’t be one. Moreover, I did not include prices for medical and legal translation, as I do not operate in and I know very little about them, but, given that they require a lot of specific knowledge in the field, I wouldn’t be surprised if their rates were a tad higher.
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