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.
Translation rates vary from country to country and language to language. They can even fluctuate from month to month so it’s impossible to give an accurate and precise figure for them. What we can offer, however, is a guide to getting the best value for money when it comes to translation costs. Translation fees create a complex minefield for the unwary, but having an understanding of how the services are priced helps you negotiate this. As a rule of thumb, expect to pay more for a complex or technical translation project, if you want less commonly used languages translated, or if you require a fast turnaround. Finding a reputable and professional translation agency such as BLEND is also vital. Before accepting a quote, compare the range of services offered, the price range for these services, and whether the agency’s in-house or freelance translators are qualified and experienced.
Supply and demand affect translation costs just as they affect costs in other services and industries. Common languages such as Spanish are cheaper to translate than less commonly used ones such as Norwegian. For the less common languages, there are usually fewer qualified translators available. This pushes up translation costs. The cost of living can be a factor as well. For example, Japanese with its different writing system is tricky to translate. Factor in the high cost of living in Japan and it’s no surprise that employing native-speaking Japanese translators is more expensive than employing Spanish translators. Many agencies have in-house translators covering the most sought-after languages such as English, Chinese, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. When translations to or from less common languages such as Icelandic, Swedish, Afrikan, or Egyptian are required, the services of a more expensive freelance professional translator are needed leading to higher translation rates.
The subject matter of a text also affects translation pricing. The more specialized the subject, the more expensive translations will be. Simple conversational emails and letters require a lower level of skill than the translation of legal, financial, automotive, medical, scientific, and engineering texts. For these, you may need a qualified and skilled translator who also has a technical background in these areas. Fees for translating specialized content can range from 50% to 100% higher than for simpler texts.
Manage your expectations and be realistic when setting your translation budget. If you or your team have spent hours crafting documents, manuals, or marketing materials, you’ll want them translated with equal care and integrity. Be aware of how long translation takes and how much professional translators need to earn to make their services viable and profitable. High-quality translation and the services that go with it (proofreading, editing, and publication) enhance your brand’s reputation and open new markets. If you can’t afford the fees translators charge, your company may not be ready to expand yet.
Don’t be tempted to choose a company charging too little. For example, if you’re offered a rate of $12 an hour, do some sums. A professional translator can translate about 300 words an hour (fewer if the subject matter is complex or technical). They won’t be earning the whole $12 an hour. Proofreaders and editors, as well as the agency, will also take their share. If something seems too cheap to be true, it probably is!
The most widely used method for pricing translation services is the cost per word. At a rough estimate in the States in 2023, $0.09 to $0.40 is the per-word rate for translation. The language pair required plus volume, complexity, quality, and timescale all affect the final cost per word as does the amount of word repetition. Usually, the word count is based on the total number of words in the source document. Bear in mind, however, that some languages have complex characters while others, such as Spanish and Portuguese, use many more words than English does. In these cases, the price may be based on the final number of translated words. Clarify this point before accepting a quote to avoid a nasty surprise when your invoice arrives. Most translation services have a minimum fee policy of at least $20. This may be a factor if you just want a paragraph or a birth certificate translated. The number of words in a document is usually counted using word processing software. This is automatically applied when you request a quote and upload the text.
An hourly rate for translation is less commonly used than per-word rates as they are harder to calculate. Hourly rates are more likely to be used for desktop publishing (DTP), proofreading, editing, or documents containing graphics and images. Professional translators work at a rate of 250 to 350 words per hour and in 2023 in the States, their hourly rates range from $30 to $70. Based on this, Spanish translators quoting $32 an hour would charge approximately $350 for a 3,500-word document. The translator’s experience, skill, and qualifications all play a part in pricing while language pairs, volume, deadlines, and complexity of the subject matter all affect the final rate.
This is the least used method of costing a translation as the number of words on a page can vary widely depending on font, print size, and file type. Pricing per page may be used if a document isn’t editable and the words can’t be counted by a software package. In the USA in 2023, the average price for translating a page is between $30 and $100.
As we saw earlier, the source and target languages can affect translation pricing. The combination of languages (often referred to as language pairs) can also affect the price you’ll pay. This isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds, however! Spanish is a high-demand language so Spanish translators can charge more than translators working in other common but less requested languages. There are, however, a very large number of English and Spanish translators available. This means that translating between these two languages is often more affordable than translating from English to Chinese or vice versa.
Despite the growing dominance of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and its use in machine translation, human translators are still a vital part of the process. The best way forward is a combination of human translation and automated translation memory supplied by CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tools. If your business is reliant on frequently translated documents and text that are similar in content, look for an agency such as BLEND that offers translation memory. A database of frequently used words, phrases, terms, sentences, headings, and more is created which can then be used for translating similar content. This substantially cuts down translation costs as well as allowing for speedier turnaround times. These machine-translated services allow multiple translators to work on one large translation project with guaranteed consistency and accuracy. We don’t recommend, however, that you totally rely on machine translation. It lacks the human touches of empathy, intuition, context, and emotional intelligence. Machine translation is rarely appropriate for high-value technical work or very creative content.
As you plan to grow your business and expand into new markets, planning ahead and having localization goals in your diary can save you money. The turnaround time plays a major part when agencies are quoting for translations. If translators have to work evenings and weekends their rates will be higher. This means that the longer lead time you can give for your translation, the more budget-friendly your quote will be. You will also be more likely to get an accurate and consistent result. As well as the cost of translators, other factors that impact turnaround times are the word count, content complexity, editing requirements, and file types.
To ensure you get the best value for money whether you’re looking for per-word or hourly translation rates, we recommend getting quotes from two or three translation agencies such as BLEND Express. Check out customer reviews as well as price comparisons before submitting your content for a quote. The more information you can give, the more accurate the final price will be. Specify your deadline, the file type, and the quality of translation you require such as a literal translation or a more nuanced marketing text. Also specify whether you require your content to be proofread, edited, or optimized for different locations – or all three. Don’t be tempted to go with the cheapest quote without checking what is covered. It could be that the agency or translator is simply relying on machine translation without adding any human input.
At BLEND Express, we offer expert translations delivered to your deadline in over 120 languages. Our network of 25,000+ native linguists ensures the best person is always working on your project. Whether you want letters and emails simply translated or more complex medical, legal, marketing, or finance translation we deliver a high-quality result. Starting your translation project with BLEND is simple. With a single click, you can choose your languages, upload your files, and get a quote.