Everything You Need to Know When Buying Translation Services
So, you need a translation service? You could simply Google and choose the first company that pops up, but understanding translation rates and services is a complex process that largely depends on your organization's priorities and circumstances.
Translation rates can vary tremendously, from seemingly outrageous prices to translation fees that appear too good to be true. While the highest prices don't necessarily guarantee the highest quality, the adage is also true: you get what you pay for. If a service's translation rates seem too low, investigate why that might be. After all, you expect the resulting translation product to be representative of your company's high standards.
So where should you turn for affordable but first-rate translation rates? Purchasing high-quality translations can frustrate and confuse non-linguists, but The Translation Company can help. Read on to gain tips and tricks designed to help you get the most out of your translation budget… and make your life easier.
Translation Rates Per Word
Translation rates per word are the most widely used metric for pricing in the translation industry today. Translation rates per word in 2019 vary anywhere from $.09/word to $.40/ word in the United States. They vary due to a variety of factors, including language pair, volume, turnaround time, and subject matter. Typically, per-word rates are based on the number of words in the source document but take care to clarify this with the contracted translation company—some companies will use the number of words in the translated text to calculate the per-word rate. This becomes significant when the number of words used to convey an idea is significantly higher in either the source document's language or the translated language. For example, Spanish and Portuguese use more words per idea than English, so it's essential to understand whether the translation rates per word will be calculated based on the source language or the translated document before contracting a translation company.
Translation Rates Per Hour
Translation rates per word are ideal for straight-forward assignments in which a complete document is turned over to a translator with little other input required. However, what about when the task is a bit more complicated? In these cases, translation services may calculate rates using a per-hour metric. Often, a company may choose to use a translation fee per hour when the assignment includes more than a simple translation—for example if an improvement or revision of a previous translation is required. Translation rate per hour is also traditionally applied to Desktop Publishing (DTP) assignments and interpretation, or "oral translation." Translator hourly rates in the United States in 2019 range anywhere from $20/ hour to $70/ hour, depending on many of the same factors as per-minute translations including language pair, volume, turnaround, and subject matter.
Translation Rates Per Page
A final, although rare, metric used in the translation industry is translation fees per page, based on the number of pages in a document. Translation cost per page can be tricky without a standardized format for what constitutes a page—in one format a page could consist of 100 words, while in another document a page could contain up to 300 words. Translation rates per page in the United States in 2019 range anywhere from $30/ page to $100/ page, depending on variables from language pair, subject matter, and turnaround time to type of files (MS Word, PDF, InDesign, etc.) required in the translation. While it's unusual for a translation service to propose a translation rate per page (per-hour and per-word rates are more common), it's crucial for you to be knowledgeable of these type of fees as you search for translation services for your business.
Differences in Language Prices
Language prices can vary, primarily due to offering and demand. Languages that have more people qualified to translate have more affordable translations rates, while the opposite is also true: languages with fewer qualified translators produce more expensive translation rates. Moreover, here's something you might not have considered—cost-of-living impacts translation fees too! For example, Norway has a higher cost of living than many countries; therefore, Norwegian is one of the most expensive languages for translation. Countries with lower costs of living—China and Latin American countries, for example—produce translators whose fees are lower. Chinese and Spanish are among the most affordable languages for translation. Translation agencies typically have more and more qualified translators for the most sought-after languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, and Russian. Less sought-after languages, Dutch, Korean, and Persian, for example, are usually less represented, and therefore translators charge higher fees.
Differences in Specialty-Level Prices
Translation rates also vary depending on the field. The more specialized the field, the higher the translation price will be. For example, translation cost for a simple conversational letter would be expected to be relatively low, because it would not require a specialist for translation. However, documents like technical manuals—for instance, a manual needing to be translated for use by an aviation company—would require that the translator be familiar with field-specific technical knowledge, a higher degree of specialization, and would yield a premium translation fee. Further, documents that include field-specific terminology (as required for industries like manufacturing, automotive, medical, legal, or engineering, for example), require a translator with specialized knowledge or a history of experience within those specific fields, as the translation will employ language that is used outside of everyday conversation. The translation fees for specialized field documents like technical manuals, medical files, financial statements, or legal documents can be between 50-100% more than typical non-specialized translation services.
Selecting Documents for Translation
While it's tempting to translate documents in their entirety, which can amount to hundreds of pages, it's wise to spend time upfront determining which documents or portions of documents are critical for translation. Meet with company stakeholders to identify which information is necessary for the task at hand rather than blindly translating documents in full. Generally, large documents include a lot of padding, including long lists of in-house departments who have worked on the project, that foreign clients wouldn't deem necessary to know, and may even make your organization seem self-centered or arrogant. You certainly don't want to pay for pages of documents to be translated that no one will ever read! Consider this example: One French company used an expert translator to trim a technical manual down to 230 pages (from 500!), eliminating sections that didn't apply to foreign clients. Such discretion saved both time and money and had the benefit of creating a resulting document that was more beneficial to clients.
For Information vs. For Publication Translations
Translation specials make a designation between two types of translation: for information and for publication. Generally, accurate yet unpolished translations are designated for information, which can be produced more quickly and less expensively than for-publication translation documents. However, there is a trade-off to consider. If your documents for translation will be used to sell or persuade, or if you want to give off a more professional image, a flawed translation (even slightly!) can affect your corporate image. Further, for-information translations may not appropriate cover legal liabilities for specialized documents. It would be best if you also considered how many people might read the translation… is it a nation-wide or international publication, or is it an in-house memo? For small-scale, low-stakes documents, services like Google Translate may be a reasonable alternative to paid translation services, providing an overall grasp of the content of the document. However, with free, mechanized translation services, you will absolutely sacrifice professionalism and quality of translation. According to the Wall Street Journal's test of two free online automatic translation services, "These services are passable for travelers or for those wanting to translate a letter… I definitely wouldn't use them for business or anything that remotely requires accuracy."
Desktop Publishing (DTP), the process of designing pages using a combination of text and images, can have a difficult-to-determine translation rate per page. The final product can range from a single-page poster to a thousand-page book or document, with a variety of content that may include a variety of images, infographics, or illustrations. Magazines can consist of high-quality full-color images, while newsletter may be printed in a single color or black and white. Because of the variation in work and complexity of graphics, it's difficult to cite an average or typical publishing rate per page for DTP. Consequently, DTP work is typically contracted based on an hourly rate, which ranges anywhere from $40/hour to $100/hour depending on factors like complexity, turnaround rate, professional seniority, and vendor markup.
Translation Only vs. TEP
TEP is an abbreviation for the steps of a translation project: translation (translation of text) + editing (editing of text) + proofreading (review of target text). The TEP steps are essential for high-quality translation results, and therefore is a cornerstone of most translation agencies' typical workflow. Translation clients may not be familiar with this acronym, but they certainly want to contract with translation agencies who follow the workflow. Some agencies misleadingly offer only one step—translation—which provides a less expensive service but a lower-quality end product. In some situations, agencies may offer two services: either translation and editing, offering a product that is slightly better than translation-only, or translation and proofreading, in which the translation product is not directly compared to the source text, leaving doubt as to whether the translated text is true to the source document. Either of these two-step options easily leads to issues in quality. A proper (and complete!) TEP sequence ensures superior quality and is ideal for complete translation.
In a certified translation, the translator or language service provider (LSP) issues a signed statement certifying that the translation is a true and accurate representation of the source document. Certified translations are often required for legal documents like marriage certificates, death certificates, adoption agreements, immigration documents, court transcripts, service agreements, and business contracts. When such legal documents aren't written in the official language of the country of submission, certified translations are often necessary. One important note: there is a big difference between a certified translator and a certified translation. A certified translator has passed an exam by the American Translators Association or other professional organization. Certified translations, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to be performed by a certified translation; rather, they must be completed by a qualified LSP and certified to be true and accurate representations of the source document.
ISO 9001 and ISO 17100
International standards provide a higher possibility of quality for translation clients, but ISO standards are more costly than typical translation services to implement. Translation buyers who value superior quality over a bargain price should seek out translation services who follow ISO procedures.
ISO 9001 certifies well-documented processes through a Quality Management System (QMS). This certification demonstrates and monitors effective planning, operation, and control of a company's processes, and the implementation and continual improvement of a QMS. It focuses on consumer needs, providing a quality policy, manual, and documented procedures, organization, application, and record keeping.
ISO 17100 is an international standard that guarantees the conformity of translation services in the international market. These might include specifications of the translation client, the translation service provider, industry codes or standards, best-practice guides, and legislation.
Translation Memory and Computer-Assisted Translations
If your organization frequently requires similar documents to be translated, ask your translation service about translation memory or computer-assisted translations (CAT). Translation memory contains a database of translation terms, phrases, sentences, headings, and other segments of text. Such a database can recall and reuse translation memory at a later time for services translating documents with similar content (for example, contracts) into the same languages regularly. This saves a translation client from the need to pay for a translation of the same sentence or phrase multiple times, thus lowering costs and shortening turnaround times. Qualified translation companies also use CAT to recognize and recall previously translated segments of similar documents. In this process, portions of text that have been translated previously can be stored and reused for future translation projects. CAT has the additional benefit of being ensuring more consistency and accuracy across contracted translation assignments.
Turnaround can be a major factor in the pricing of translation services. Our best advice: plan ahead! Even as your organization begins to turn its eye towards markets abroad, begin the process of looking for a reputable and reasonable translation company to give translators a maximum amount of lead time. As expected, longer turnaround times allow lower rates and the benefit of a more consistent quality assurance process. Rush turnarounds require a premium payment and may lead some translation companies to skip processes that assure the highest quality. Turnaround calculations can be based on a variety of factors, including the number of words, the complexity of content, file type, and procedures like desktop publishing or additional edits or proofreading.
Projects and documents that have a short turnaround time and tight deadlines typically incur translation rush rates. These projects often require translators and project managers to work after hours, including evenings, weekends, and sometimes an excessive number of hours per day to meet the deadline. In ideal translation situations, a single translator works on each piece of content, ensuring consistency in writing style and terminology, and knowledge of the big picture. This tends to reduce the need for project management. Translation services sometimes have a need to obtain additional translators for rush projects, creating additional recruiting and management work, and running the risk of decreasing consistency. Rush translation assignments sometimes require multiple translators work within one document simultaneously, requiring shared glossaries and resources. The increased project management involved in rush translation is just one of the reasons for the higher fees associated with translation rush rates.
Interpreting is a variation of translation that occurs on the spot, as opposed to translation of documents that occurs over a period of time. Think of it this way: work on written documents, like a user manual for French customers, billboards for a sales campaign in Portugal, or reports filed in Chinese for use in American, all involve translation. Interacting or listening to people speak in a foreign language on the spot, like a sales call with a Mexican company, a virtual meeting between businesses in Japan and the United States, or a parent-teacher conference with a recently emigrated Taiwanese family, require an interpreter. Interpreter hourly rates are the typical metric for costs in this market. Interpreter hourly rates are based on the event, venue, and experience of the interpreter. The rarity of the language, as in translation, also influences hourly interpreter rates.
Translation companies often offer NET30 days accounts to corporate clients, meaning the company is invoiced and expected to provide payment within 30 days after translation services are rendered. Often corporations can use a savings technique with translation service providers by paying upfront. Consider asking translation vendors if they will offer a discount, usually between 5% and 10%, if your organization pays in full before services. Translation service providers are sometime cash-poor because of the pay gap between the services they provide and payment receipt from clients, so most will honor a discount if you can pay upfront. Often the discount is worth it, even if the upfront payment must be placed on a credit card, which can then be paid later, usually after services are received. The technique of paying upfront can yield more than monetary savings—it can improve and strengthen your company's relationship with the translation vendor, which may result in further discounts, superior services, and other relationship-based perks.
Cheap or Free Translations: Beware!
In considering your translation provider, be realistic. How many pages can a translator, even an expert, reasonably produce in an hour? How much time do you want your translation service to spend crafting critical text for your company's business, image, or reputation? How much time did your team spend crafting the original document—is it worth translating with integrity? When choosing a translation service provider, consider the time you've contributed to developing products, services, and company reputation at home and abroad. Professional, high-quality translation is part of the international business model—if you feel you can't afford it, perhaps your organization is not yet ready to breach the global market. The value that a professional translation company provides—from translator selection, project management, and quality control to file conversions, standardized presentation, and quality assurance—comes with a price tag, yes, but it can save your organization hours and increase your value in the marketplace.
Consider your audience and your purpose. It's not one-size-fits-all! For in-house memos and documents with a small circulation or low stakes, a less polished (and less expensive) translation option way works well. However, for advertisements, important sales or legal documents, and field-specific guides or manuals, it makes sense to purchase premium translation.
Choosing a Translation Service Provider
Translation rates don't always line up directly with the quality of the translation your company will receive, so it's wise to interview several translation vendors before making this critical decision. Don't be afraid to ask prospective vendors for a portfolio of samples and references—not just client names but actual texts they've produced and sold—from clients, then follow through and review them. Run these samples by a trusted, language-sensitive native speaker of the translated language (your organization's foreign clients with strong relationships are perfect!) for an opinion. Beware of translation providers who can't provide high-quality work samples, especially if they've been in business for several years, as there's little guarantee what they produce for you will be superior in quality, no matter what they say. Finally, know that you will pay a reasonable amount for quality work, just as for any professional service.
Translation Rates Infographic
Need a translation quote for "yesterday"? How can you get the best translation service rates possible? Learn in 5 quick steps everything you need to know to communicate with translation vendors and get the best deal possible. After learning here how translation rates work, don't forget to check our 5 tips on how to save big in translations. These tips apply to all types of translations. Finally, go to the bottom of this page to learn why you should always avoid cheap translation services.
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