Corinne is the Social Media and Content Lead at BLEND. She is dedicated to keeping global business professionals up to date on all things localization, translation, language and culture.
Calculating the cost of translation services isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. Some freelance linguists calculate the cost of translation services per hour, while others use a per-word pricing model. However, the overall cost of translation services hinges on multiple factors.
Word count, language pairs, and project complexity all play a role in determining the final cost of a translation project. Without proper planning, it’s easy for translation costs to snowball. When looking for a translation partner, it’s tempting to go for the lowest possible rates. However, as with anything in life, cut-price translations are a false economy. If you want the best possible results, it makes sense to spend a little more.
Need some help making sense of translation costs? Our guide breaks down everything you need to know about translation pricing.
This might seem like a silly question, but there are actually several types of translation and language services on offer. The most common of these is a simple translation service. This translation process involves a translator taking a source text and translating it into a target language.
Pure translation services tend to be cheaper, with no additional costs for adapting content. You’ll encounter this type of service when looking to translate things like legal documents, business contracts, marketing documents, or anything that doesn’t require extensive adaptation to prepare it for readers in a new language. Translation rates vary and tend to be project specific. As of 2023, expect to pay upwards of $0.09 per word for basic translation services.
There’s also localization. This is essentially an enhanced form of translation. Although a basic translation is required, an experienced translator will also need to rework the text for its new audience. When readers speaking the target language look at this text, they need to think that it was written exclusively for them.
Many aspects of localization are functional. It involves inserting things like correct currencies and local units of measurement. However, the best localization and translation services will ensure that content is made culturally relevant for new markets. As you’d imagine, translation agencies charge more for localization. In some cases, you can expect to pay 50% more for localization than a standard translation.
Finally, there’s transcreation. You’ll need to consider transcreation services if you’re looking to tailor marketing collateral for international audiences. Marketing content needs to be emotive and strike a chord with audiences in their native language. A professional translator with experience in transcreation will excel at this.
Although transcreation can sometimes involve veering far from the original text, the core message and emotion behind it should remain the same. Average rates for transcreation vary wildly. If you’re working with industry-specific content, expect to pay a minimum of $0.13 per word.
When it comes to translation projects, there’s no single framework for costing. The kind of content you need translated will have a significant impact on how much you’ll need to pay a freelancer or translation service provider.
General content like social media posts, email text, and product descriptions tend to be the most affordable. However, translation prices rise as you start seeking more specific content.
Looking for a translator to work on retooling a marketing campaign for a new territory? Your social media channels will almost certainly need updating, while paid advertisements and printed documents will also need attention. To maintain credibility and engage new audiences, you’ll need a native speaker who can consistently deliver when it comes to translation quality.
Do you need to have court documents or legal paperwork translated? Legal translations typically cost around $0.15 per word. Meanwhile, finance documents like bank statements will set you back around $0.14 per word.
Average translation rates for scientific content are somewhat higher, with rates starting at around $0.19 per word. Medical translations requiring in-depth knowledge are significantly more expensive. Generally speaking, you should expect to pay upwards of $0.39 per word to have medical texts translated from one language to another.
Translation costs will vary depending on which type of service you opt for. If you partner with a freelance translator, you can settle on a price-per-word rate. Alternatively, you may agree to a fixed sum that covers the total cost of an entire project. If you’re using an established translation agency, you’ll usually have to follow a price-per-word model.
You’ll encounter the per-word pricing structure whether you’re working with freelancers or translation vendors. Average rates vary depending on the nature of the source text, the experience level of the translators, and the scope of your project.
Content like legal documents and technical manuals are far more involved, so prepare to budget for a higher per-word rate. However, a more experienced translator with specific expertise will usually be able to deliver your project more quickly. In short, paying a little more for an experienced translator pays off in the long run.
Average price-per-word rates are used throughout the translation industry. For simple translations, a starting rate of $0.09 per word for simple translation is common. For more specialist content, it’s not unusual to encounter rates of $0.40 per word. These rates are just a guideline. Numerous factors can affect the price per word rate, including language combinations, text volume, and turnaround.
If you’re using a credible translation agency, there are several ways you can reduce your overall costs. Editing and proofreading are usually billed at a lower rate than translations. In most cases, these tasks will be charged at half the rate of a word-for-word translation. Many agencies also offer repetition savings.
If it’s a lower word count you’re looking to have translated, bear in mind that most agencies and freelance translators apply a minimum fee. If the price per word total falls short of this, you’ll still have to honor this minimum fee requirement.
Hourly rates aren’t as common as per-word rates. They’re generally only offered by independent freelancers. Most translators will only agree to hourly rates when dealing with editing or proofreading tasks, rather than standard translation work.
In certain cases, agreeing to a per-hour rate can be cost-effective. However, consider that a typical linguist will only be able to translate around 300 words per hour. If you’re dealing with a specific topic or complex language, a translator’s output may be marginal.
In the United States, the average hourly rate for freelance translators is $27, with some of the highest-paying languages including Arabic, Korean, and Japanese. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether paying a freelancer an hourly rate is the best way forward. If they come highly recommended or you’ve worked with them before, you can determine whether their productivity levels are financially viable.
Professional translation services may also offer cost-per-project pricing tiers. This is particularly attractive for businesses looking to streamline their translation projects.
Do you need website content translated? A project of 3000 words or less can cost as little as $400. Need a PowerPoint Presentation translated? If your slides contain less than 300 words, translation prices start at around $40.
Even paying for expert insights doesn’t need to be particularly expensive. The cost of adapting 10 Google ads to a new language is around $140. Meanwhile, a 5000-word legal document can be translated for an affordable $620.
Nowadays, there are many machine translation services out there. Although you’ll need to pay to unlock premium features, tools like Google Translate and DeepL can help with computer-assisted translations.
You can use more advanced machine translation services to automate large-scale projects. They’re easy to integrate and can deliver quick results, dramatically reducing turnaround time. However, in every case, you’ll need to invest in proofreading and editing services.
Machine translations aren’t perfect. If your source texts contain industry-specific content, reliability becomes a concern. You’ll need to lean heavily on human translators to ensure content is properly refined and adjusted. Furthermore, machine translation services perform badly when it comes to creative content. If you want your translations to properly capture brand identity and maintain that emotive edge, the human touch is called for.
However, machine translation does boast several cost-saving benefits. You don’t have to worry about budgeting for price-per-word agreements or hourly rates. Furthermore, you don’t have to fork out for additional rewrites.
Sadly, even the best machine translation tools struggle when it comes to accuracy. A quick proofread will typically reveal a host of grammatical issues. If you’re spending a considerable amount of time on manual post-editing, it makes more sense to invest in reliable freelancers to handle the first round of translations.
Unsure of whether to go the freelancer route or use the services of an established translation agency? As already mentioned, subject matter plays a key role in determining the cost of translation services per hour or word. However, it’s by no means the only factor. Let’s take a deeper look at what else you’ll need to think about when budgeting for your translation project:
Language pairs are, without a doubt, one of the biggest contributors to the cost of translation. Supply and demand of available translators are important here. The more translators there are working in a specific language, the cheaper it will usually be to have a text translated to or from that language. However, it’s not as straightforward as talent availability.
Average rates can vary considerably when you start looking at a specific language pair. Additionally, the cost of living in certain countries can impact rates. If you’re hiring freelancers in parts of the world with a low cost of living, lower hourly or price-per-word rates are standard. The same logic applies when hiring talent in countries with a relatively high cost of living.
For smaller businesses, it’s tempting to invest heavily in translation and localization in many different languages. However, this isn’t a particularly sensible way of spending much-needed capital. If your translation budget is modest, it makes far more sense to target a specific territory or language first.
Where are your biggest untapped markets? If your market research identifies the eurozone as a lucrative market, funnel your budget toward translating into French and German, rather than wasting money on expensive translations into Simplified Chinese and Korean. That being said, not all European languages are as affordable as others. Scandinavian languages like Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish are some of the most expensive around.
Some tasks aren’t as simple as translating text from one language into another. If your project involves business material or official documents, it’s crucial that you preserve formatting.
If your documents require extensive formatting, such as with a certified translation, a translator will have to carry out more tasks. Naturally, this will be reflected in the overall price. What’s more, consider the source text itself. If you’re delivering your text as a PDF or in an image format, it will first need to be transformed into an editable document. This editable text will then need to be assessed for clarity before the translation process can begin. As you’d expect, this slows down the overall process and can increase the price of a project.
Whenever possible, always send your documents in an editable format. This way, you can confirm the text structure and relevancy of the original content before passing on the project to a translator to work their magic.
Does your translation or localization project involve video content? If so, then you’ll need to factor this into your budget. Translating elements like subtitles, video overlays, and voice-overs costs more than a basic written translation.
Although translating things like subtitles is fairly straightforward, localizing voice-overs is a far more involved process. An experienced translation partner may charge a premium for the service, but it’s a cost worth absorbing if you want to add value to your video content.
Any large-scale translation project is bound to include repetitive content. Perhaps you’re launching hundreds of product descriptions on an ecommerce platform. Alternatively, you might be including identical descriptions of your business across multiple pieces of marketing material.
Rather than translate these text segments from scratch every time, translation companies will use translation memories to identify these repetitions. Repeated content will then be translated automatically. This not only saves precious time for translators, but it can also yield big discounts for you.
Do you need your content in a hurry? Many agencies offer express services, but fast turnaround comes at a premium. Likewise, freelance translators are also likely to charge a revised rate if they’re having to deliver assignments more quickly than usual.
If you’re dealing with a last-minute translation project, these premiums are unavoidable. However, you can slash expenditure by planning ahead, leaving yourself plenty of breathing room before translated text is required.
Many projects require more than just word-for-word translations. If you have a larger project on your hands, extra tasks that fall outside the scope of the translation will need to be taken into account. Sometimes, these tasks will be included in the overall price. Others may be charged as an additional cost.
You may have already nailed the project scope as part of a larger planning process. However, when it comes to translation, things aren’t always as simple as you originally thought. You may have underestimated the complexity of your project. Just because you think the process is going to be straightforward, doesn’t mean an experienced translator will.
To deliver the best possible results, translation projects need to be carefully assessed and planned. Translators may need to spend some time familiarizing themselves with your existing content to get a feel of branding and tone of voice.
Some freelancers and agencies will charge more for this, while others may fold it into the overall cost of the translation. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it’s a small price to pay to ensure your project is executed as smoothly as possible.
If you’ve attempted to tackle translation tasks yourself in the past, you may already have a translation glossary to hand. If you’ve used machine translation services before, you’ll likely have translation memories established.
These memories will help a translator identify existing repetitions, which can help determine project complexity and define a per-project rate. It can also indicate how much of a discount you’re likely to receive for repeated content.
Planning a substantial translation project? If translated copy needs to be imported into a content management system, this step can add to overall costs. If your in-house CMS is outdated and not particularly user-friendly, translators may spend more time importing text than actually translating it. These man-hours don’t come for free, so consider how this will affect your translation budget.
When you work with a translator or translation agency, there’s an expectation that the work provided will be of high quality. However, it’s always worth spending a little more on translation quality assurance if it’s offered as a service.
This might include an additional round of assessment, editing, or rewriting. Although quality assurance is generally included in the overall cost, this isn’t always the case. If you have a big project on your hands, make sure quality assurance comes as a core part of the package for peace of mind.
Having trouble managing translation projects? At BLEND, our online translation services can help you realize any project. With a network of 25,000 translators working in more than 120 languages, you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect linguist to tackle any job. Our expert team can take care of translating RFis and RFPs, user manuals, patents, medical documents, annual reports, and much more. We also offer quality translation services in New York City, and quality language translation in Los Angeles.
Our self-service platform makes it easy to get your translation off the ground. Need some help calculating the cost of your translation? Why not use our online translation Wizard to get an idea of how much you’ll need to spend? Alternatively, get in touch with the team today to tell us more about your project.