When I ask people around me what is, according to them, the cost of translating one page of text, their answer vary from an enormous to a ridiculously small amount. Are translation fees so mysterious? Not at all! In fact, they’re pretty simple. Let’s shed a bit of light on the dark side of the moon.
First, you must know that translation is one of the only language services charged on a word basis. Why is that? The answer is quite dull: because everybody does it. It’s a convention in our field and since almost all translators and agencies typically charge per word, clients accustomed to the practice expect this kind of fee and newbies can compare quotes more easily.
Generally, the rate is between $0.20 and $0.28 CA per word. Various factors determine the rate level:
- the combination of languages. A translation from English to French will likely be cheaper than from Farsi to Norwegian;
- the field (health, administration, environment, IT, economy, geography, etc.). The more the field is specific, the more the translator needs to be an expert, and the higher the rate will be;
- the technical level. This often relies on the field. For instance, the operation manual of a medical device is not translated as easily as a movie summary;
- the format of the file. Microsoft Word documents are generally easy to process, but PDFs can be troublesome. The rate can be a little bit higher in that case;
- the deadline. A text that needs to be translated the same day can be subject to a higher rate. As far as I’m concerned, a 15% increase is charged for same-day projects.
Other factors may be taken into consideration, like the level of experience of the translator or his/her membership to a professional corporation like the American Translators Association or the Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec (OTTIAQ), a sign of quality. Agencies also charge a slightly higher fee since their operation costs are higher than those of freelance translators.
One benefit of the per-word pricing is that the client can know the exact cost of a translation beforehand. Unless surprises come up during the work, the specific amount of the quote will be the final price. Moreover, when we use a translation memory, the repeated words can be charged at a lower rate.
Why did my translator charge me an hourly rate?
Some tasks can only be charged by the hour. For example, if you send a PDF or an image for translation, the translator will likely have to spend time fixing the layout of his translation to make it look exactly like the original document.
Some types of translations also require an hourly rate, such as the translation of slogans or taglines. Think about it: you have a three-word slogan to translate into French for an advertising campaign, let’s say, Go get it. At $0.25 CA per word, this translation would cost … $0.75 CA. This makes no sense at all. There are good chances that an hour or more will be necessary to evaluate the campaign, the competition and the good fit of the translation in the target cultural context.
How long do you think it takes to come up with an excellent translation of this slogan?
Word or hour basis: often the same result
You should know that generally, translators that are capable of estimating precisely the time required for a translation would charge the same amount if they used a word-basis or an hour-basis rate. Considering that we usually translate on average 2000 words a day, we can estimate the translation speed at 250 words an hour (if the work day is 8 hours long). Neither type of pricing is better than the other when the time estimation is accurate!
So, how much does a translation cost?
Let’s say that you are a financial security advisor and you wish to translate from English to French a one-page Word document written in Arial 12 (approx. 400 words) about your services. Your translator could charge you $80 CA plus taxes for this project. Surprised? Relieved? This price is for reference only, of course.
Before you send your text for translation, you should always ask for a quote to have an idea of the final price. Most of all, resist to the temptation to automatically go for the lowest bidder. If someone charges you $0.12 CA/word, there are good chances that the text will be translated in a hurry or will not be revised, or that the person is not a professional translator.