The Definitive Guide to Translation Rates in 2021
Michail Strijov · Updated: 4 May 2021
1. How Much Do Translations Cost?
The cost of a translation depends on several factors such as language pair, subject field and urgency, and can vary a lot depending on the level of qualification it requires. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect the following rates for high-quality professional services:
per source word for translation
per target word for editing
Below is a small sample of what a translation of certain documents from English to German would cost on average, just to give you an idea:
|Website (3,000 words)||390$|
|Technical Manual (4,000 words)||520$|
|Press Release (500 words)||65$|
|PowerPoint Presentation (1,200 words)||156$|
|CV (300 words)||39$|
|Birth Certificate (150 words)||19.50$|
|iOS / Android App GUI (2,500 words)||325$|
|10 Google Ads (300 words)||39$|
Average Rates in the Translation Industry
The following data are taken from the ProZ.com database of translation rates, perhaps the biggest dataset of its kind, using a total sample size of 156,231 replies.
- 80% of translation rates will fall between 0.098$ and 0.116$ per source word
- 0.104$ per word is the average rate charged across all language pairs
- 33.81$ per hour is the average hourly rate charged across all language pairs
Budgeting Your Translation
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to translation pricing, one thing generally holds true: you get what you pay for. The more you invest in your translation, the higher the translator’s qualification and experience, and the better the result.
It’s important to first think about what the translation will be used for:
- “Light” content used for understanding a text or for personal use can be translated by beginner translators with little experience; user-generated content like product reviews often falls in the same category. It most likely won’t hurt your business to save on translation costs by working with a cheaper translator (or even by using an automatic translation tool like DeepL).
- Content meant for publication should be translated by a professional translator only, e. g. press releases, websites, brochures, user guides. By going for someone who has enough experience and expertise, you can avoid putting your business and brand in a bad light.
- Specialized content requiring in-depth knowledge should be translated by expert translators in the respective field. This includes highly technical, legal, medical and creative content. It’s especially crucial for business-critical documents – skimping on translation for a contract or technical documentation may cost you dearly down the line.
2. Pricing Factors
There are a few factors that will influence the price of your translation, some less and some more.
The language pair has the greatest impact on the translation rate:
- Languages with few translators will be more expensive. That may be because the language generally has few speakers (Icelandic, Welsh etc.) or because there are few professional translators specializing in the source language you’re looking for.
- A high cost of living in the target language country usually entails high translation costs (e. g. Sweden, Norway and Denmark).
- If your translation budget is limited, try to do in-depth market research and prioritize languages by importance: if you’re a US-based engine parts manufacturer, for instance, translating your documentation into Spanish (with Latin America as a target market) would be much more reasonable than translating it into German (where the market is smaller and much more saturated).
- Documents requiring specialist knowledge (technical, legal, medical etc.) and/or extensive research will often cost more than general translations.
- Creative tasks, for instance marketing translations (“trans-creation”), usually take longer and cost more.
- Highly specialized translations (such as patent translations and certain legal translations) often require a thorough (higher) education in the respective field, on top of excellent language skills. The same goes for high-profile marketing translations, for instance the localization of an advertising campaign. Expect to pay 2–3 times higher rates – upward of 0.20 $ per word – if you really want a good translation (read: if you don’t want to spend more money re-translating everything after spending even more money dealing with the disastrous consequences of a poor first translation).
- It’s common for translators to add an urgency surcharge when a translation has to be done much faster than usual.
- Try to plan ahead and add buffers to your translation deadlines in order to avoid having to rush any processes (which will always increase cost).
- Documents requiring extensive technical work – for instance recreating the layout found in PDFs – will cost more due to the time spend working on those aspects of the translation.
- If your document is in an image format (i. e. JPEG or scanned PDF), the text will have to be transformed into editable text through an OCR application (optical character recognition). This often introduces many mistakes and adds billable hours on top of the translation.
- If you have the time and resources, make sure to send your document in an editable format (for instance as a Word document) in order to avoid additional costs through formatting issues.
- Repetitive Content is text that is used more than once in your document or documents.
- Let’s assume you have 20 brochures for different products your company sells, but in all of them there is a description of said company, which is exactly the same. These are called “repetitions” if they are exact matches and “fuzzy matches” if they are not exact. Most translators and companies will not charge you at all or give you a big discount for this type of content.
3. How Are
There are a few different ways of billing translation services, and they mostly depend on the language pair and the task at hand.
- Per Word
The most common way of billing translations is per source word, meaning the amount of words in the original document to be translated. Most translators and agencies will charge you a minimum amount of words per order, a so-called “turnkey rate”, which is rarely below 100 words or 10 $. If you would like to find out the word count of your document you can do that easily in most word processors (MS Word, Apple Pages), or by inserting your text in an online word counting tool.
- Per Hour
Billing per hour is more common for translation-related tasks such as editing, proofreading and formatting work, and less common for translation tasks (although it also happens occasionally). Expect to pay between 35 – 75 $ per hour for those services, depending on the level of qualification you need.
- Per Standard Line
Standard lines are a customary billing unit for German translations. That is due to the extensive use of composite words (“Mittelklassenstufenhecklimousine” and the likes…) in German, which would make billing by the word somewhat inaccurate. A standard line is defined as 50 – 55 characters (including spaces) and will cost you between 1.70 – 2.50 $.
- Per Page
Billing per page is rather unusual and is more common in literary translations or when working with documents in non-editable formats (like scanned PDFs). Again, prices vary and will be significantly higher when the translation involves a considerable amount of formatting work.An average page in English will have between 250 and 500 words, depending on type size and line spacing. A translation will cost around 25 – 60 $ per page accordingly.
4. Choosing a Translator
The internet is full of translation service providers, and it’s a place where finding trustworthy partners is notoriously difficult. Since the job title is not protected, anyone with a dictionary can call himself a translator. However, there are a few signals that can help you sort the wheat from the chaff:
- Higher Education Degree / Certification
Someone who has invested a few years studying translation or philology will likely have an excellent understanding of language; he or she will probably also really care for and be invested in the quality of the translation. A translator having a degree in another field (e. g. medicine, law or engineering) will often have the expert knowledge that you’re looking for when translating more specialized texts. A proper certification (for example ATA) is also a sign of someone who knows how to do his or her work very well.
- Membership in a Professional Association
A translator being a member of a professional association signals professionalism in different ways. It means that he or she is invested enough to pay an annual membership fee, and perhaps he or she cares for the profession enough to be part of an organization that represents translators’ interests. Many associations also require certain qualification standards to be met. For example, the BDÜ (the German Federal Association of Translators and Interpreters) will ask for extensive work experience or a higher education degree in translation before letting a translator become part of the association.
- Proven Experience / Reviews
Can the translator demonstrate independent and credible reviews? Does he or she have references from real organizations?
Specialization is another hallmark of a professional translator. Much like you wouldn’t trust a doctor who claims to be both a surgeon and a gastroenterologist, you shouldn’t trust a translator who claims to be a specialist in every field.
- Native Speaker / Proofreading by a Native Speaker
A native speaker will always have a better feel for the tone and register, for what sounds “good” in his or her language, and for what phrases may sound stilted or unnatural. It’s generally considered unprofessional to translate into any other language than your native language without proofreading by a native speaker.
Of course, all of the above is simply an orientation. A translator can have a university degree and still produce poor translations; he can also have no formal qualification but years of experience and a great feel for language. However, these are useful flags to look out for when searching for a trustworthy translator. Also, if your project involves many language pairs and/or high volumes, you might want to consider hiring a translation agency instead.
5. Final Considerations
When choosing a translator, it’s always important to think about how much the translation is worth to you. You can always find someone who will do it for less, so you should ask yourself these questions:
- What could be the potential damage caused by a poor translation down the line?
- How much depends on the quality of the translation? (i.e. marketing appeal, legal liabilities etc.)
- How much have I invested in creating the original material?
While some content can be translated by non-professional bilinguals, most translation tasks are better off in professional hands, and it’s better to invest in quality here. After all, a good translation takes excellent language skills and in-depth expert knowledge – and those things just don’t come cheap.