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.
When it comes to expanding your business into global markets, translation is key. For successful targeting of customers in different countries, providing content in a language they feel comfortable using is essential. For this, you’ll need professional translation services. Knowing how much translators earn can help you assess whether quotes for these services are reasonable and realistic. To set their rates, translators not only have to take into account their language skills and qualifications but also their experience, their subject matter knowledge, their cost of living, and the impact of machine translation tools. Market supply and demand is also a factor. It’s impossible to give a definitive figure for professional translation rates but what we can give you is a guide to how they’re calculated as well as the average rates charged by translators across the USA.
The way a translation rate is calculated depends on whether the translator works for an agency or whether they are a freelance translator. If they’re directly employed, you’ll be quoted either an hourly rate for your translation project or a per-word rate. Most freelancers, however, work for per-word rates. The word count is usually calculated automatically when documents are uploaded for a quote.
To calculate how much you’ll be charged for a translation when there is a set fee per word, this fee is multiplied by the total number of words in the text. This will be the basis of the quote no matter how long the actual translation takes. Usually, the number of words in the source language is used but, occasionally, depending on the language the quote is based on the number of words in the target language. For example, German and English have far fewer words than languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Other factors, such as whether CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools are used, can have an effect on the final price quoted.
Agencies and freelance translators almost always have a minimum charge for their services. This discourages clients from submitting several small projects which individually pay the translator no meaningful rate.
Depending on factors such as experience, skill, qualifications, and whether CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools are used, the rate per word set by agencies and freelancers varies from 5 cents to 20 cents (2023 USA). While the final price to you won’t be affected, freelance translators who work independently can afford to set a higher price per word than those freelancing for translation agencies.
As with any career, the longer a translator works the more experienced, knowledgeable, and competent they’ll become especially if they’ve taken additional qualifications and developed further skill sets. You’ll pay more for this valuable experience. If a translator has taken the effort to gain more qualifications and develop further technical knowledge, it’s evidence of their professionalism and trustworthiness. This makes it easier for them to charge and for clients to accept higher rates.
If a translator can offer less commonly used languages such as Swedish or Norwegian, can translate more complex languages (for example, Arabic or Japanese), or can work on tricker language pairs including German to Dutch, you can expect to pay more for their services.
In the USA, there are wide regional variations in translation rates. For example in New York state, the average annual translator’s salary is $63,205, and in Alaska, it is $62,512. Other regions or states where you’d expect to pay more for translation services are:
There’s a lot of government translation in Washington, DC which when combined with a higher cost of living, pushes the District of Columbia to the top of the earnings table. If you want to pay less for a translation project, look for quotes from translators living and working in:
CAT tools are becoming increasingly common in the translation world, bringing varying degrees of automation to the process. As with any tool that involves AI (Artificial Intelligence) there are pros and cons to machine translation. It’s not always a good solution for creative texts as the results can lack context as well as the nuances added by human empathy, intuition, and emotional intelligence. If your business relies on marketing content, it’s advisable to budget for translations done by experienced humans or a combination of machine and human translation. CAT tools come into their own when content contains repeated words and phrases. Translation Memories (TMs) can store these, creating a database that saves them from having to be repetitively translated. This lowers the word count, decreasing the cost to you. Many translation agencies and freelancers now apply a CAT tool discount to their final quotes.
Market demand affects the price you’ll be quoted. When the pool of available linguists is smaller, such as for those working in Nordic languages, the price of translation is driven up. For languages such as Spanish and Italian, there’s a larger pool of available translators. This drives prices down. The language pair required also influences the rates quoted for professional translations. Translating from English to Castilian Spanish will be cheaper than translating from English to Catalan as Catalan is a more niche language. As well as the supply of available translators, demand also plays a part. Reliable and experienced translators who are swamped with work can charge a higher rate than those who are struggling to find work.
With so many factors such as education, qualifications, experience, and location affecting translation rates, it’s hard to give a precise answer to this question. Across the United States in 2023, the average hourly rate for translators is $22.82. For entry-level translators, the rate is probably nearer $19 an hour. It takes translators up to nine years to reach the average salary level while skilled translators with 20+ years of experience living in certain regions of the USA can earn up to $70,000 a year.
Another factor that can impact how much you pay for translations is the translator’s field of expertise. The more specialized their knowledge and skills, the more they can quote for their services. For example, a translator specializing in heat pumps or wind energy converters will charge a higher per-word or hourly rate for their services than one specializing in human resource work. This is sometimes balanced out, however, by the fact that there will be less demand for such highly specialized translation work. Demand is also a factor. Medical and legal translators are always in high demand. They can often charge a premium for their services.
The use of CAT tools is having a major impact on simplifying and speeding up translation projects and most agencies bear this in mind and give a discount when quoting for your translation project. Going forward, a sensible balance needs to be maintained between the use of CAT tools and human translators.
Language translation is a competitive industry, especially when common languages and less specialized work are involved. And, as we’ve seen, many factors influence the rate you can expect to pay for a professional translator. Having an idea of how much they expect to earn to make their careers viable gives you an idea of what you’ll expect to pay for your project. At BLEND Express we offer a competitively priced and high-quality translation service backed up by over 25,000 native linguists working in 120+ languages. Click here and get your quote today.