What’s a fair price to pay for professional translation? The answer is “it depends”. This tutorial will give you a sense of what to expect for different types of work.
Professional translation is generally priced on a per word basis, although a few agencies, such as Straker Translations, price their services on an hourly rate. This makes sense, and compensates translators for the output they produce.
Per word prices for major languages vary widely, from as low as 5 cents per word from highly automated services like Gengo and One Hour Translation, to 30 to 50 cents per word for expert translators who work on a particular subject. 15 to 25 cents per word is pretty standard. (Gengo allows you to request translations at three different quality levels ranging from 5 to 15 cents per word with peer review). Machine translation, of course, is free, but it is generally unusable for publication or business correspondence.
Now let’s work these numbers into an approximate hourly rate. This will give you a better idea of what the translator is actually making for different levels of service. A good rule of thumb is that a translator can average about 300 words per hour (they’ll spend a significant fraction of their time doing terminology research, not just typing). So that works out to $15 to $150 per hour, minus the translation agency’s cut. This is a good reason to work directly with translators if you can manage it, because you can cut out the middleman, and develop a working relationship with the translators you hire.
Several factors can also affect the cost of translation, including:
- Rapid delivery : some agencies specialize in extremely fast translation for financial news and other applications, this costs extra.
- Peer review : expect to pay an extra 30 to 50% to have translations reviewed and post-edited by another translator.
- Rare language pairs : translating from English to major languages is pretty straightforward, as there are efficient markets for translation. Translating to and from less common languages, especially without using English as a bridge language, is more difficult, and therefore usually more expensive.
- Domain expertise : if your translators need to be subject matter experts, this will also affect price. For example, a colleague of mine translates financial documents from Japanese to English. He easily makes around $0.50 per word, and his clients are happy to pay because they need the work done correctly.
Here’s what to expect at various price levels:
- 5 to 10 cents per word : basic translation without peer review or domain expertise, good enough for translating product listings and general purpose content, but be careful.
- 10 to 20 cents per word : translation by certified professionals, with peer review at the higher price levels.
- 20 to 50 cents per word : translation to and from rarer languages, or translation with subject matter expertise.