Translation Pricing: How Does It Work?

May 3, 2023

Calculating translation pricing isn’t as simple as it sounds.

After all, a proper translation service doesn’t only translate documents word for word. It also includes project management, editing, proofreading, regulatory compliance, and more.

Translation companies calculate translation pricing differently, with factors like the number of words, the language combination, and even the number of revisions all impacting the final cost of your translated text.

Analyzing translation rates: How professional translation service providers set their rates

Translation companies consider dozens of factors when determining translation fees. However, the vast majority of vendors in the translation industry follow similar pricing structures.

Here’s a quick look at the common translation pricing models:

1. Per-word structure

A per-word rate is used by translation services that offer self-service translation platforms. Some require advance payments for translation “credits,” which can be used for future small-scale projects.

One benefit of this pricing structure is the predictability of translation prices. For example, if a translator charges $0.12 per word for a 1,000-word article, expect to pay precisely $120 for the job.

Per-word translation costs are also popular among contractors and translation agencies. However, some service providers prefer an hourly rate to cover other tasks involved in translation projects, including editing and fact-checking.

2. Hourly structure

Clients and language service providers (LSPs) may negotiate an hourly payment structure for translation projects. The client is then billed for every productive hour put into non-translation tasks.

An hourly structure is helpful for more complex assignments. Such projects involve software localization, graphic translations, editing, regulatory compliance, and other tasks.

Sometimes, per-word and hourly payment structures are combined.

Freelance translators, for example, sometimes charge an hourly fee for editing on top of the agreed translation rate per word. It all depends on negotiations prior to starting the translation.

3. Per-page structure

A small number of translation service providers use a per-page pricing structure. In this setup, clients are billed a flat rate for every page of text in the document to be translated.

Translation services that charge per page are uncommon in the current industry. That’s because variations in font sizes, page formatting, and paragraph structures make the total word count for each page wildly unpredictable.

However, a per-page pricing structure makes sense if the client sends a handwritten letter, digital document, or visually heavy file.

4. Project-based structure

Translation vendors may charge a fixed price for translating a specific document. The flat cost of a project is discussed with a project manager, bringing other processing fees into consideration.

Flat translation fees make sense for large projects, such as product localization campaigns from English into Spanish. Since the client orders translations for a large number of documents, LSPs may offer a lower flat fee than if each document is translated individually.

In a project-based pricing structure, it’s important for LSPs to be transparent about how the project’s cost is calculated.

This takes us to the factors affecting the cost of translation services.

6 Factors that affect the cost of translation services

The process of translation has a lot of moving parts, and most of them are factored in when determining translation costs.

Here are six factors that affect the price of translation projects:

1. Word count

The length of a document not only affects the price of per-word translations.

LSPs and freelancers also factor in word count when pricing project-based translation services.

Charging per word is the most popular pricing structure in the translation industry. The longer the word, the more clients pay for a translation project.

It’s worth noting that LSPs may charge a minimum fee to profit from small translation jobs. For example, if the LSP only needs to translate 10 words at $0.40 per word (total of $4), the cost of internal processes — from research, project management, and post-editing — vastly outweighs their earnings.

Alternatively, clients cause fully-automatic or Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) services for small projects. Some of the popular types of Machine Translations (MT) are rule-based translations, statistical translations, and syntax-based translations.

2. Language pair

The source language alone can affect the price of a translation job. But in most cases, LSPs look at the language pair as a whole when pricing translation projects.

A language pair consists of the source language (the original language) and the target language (the language being translated to).

Language pairs involve varying degrees of complexity in a translation workflow — thus, affecting a project’s price. This is especially true for Asian languages like Japanese which use non-alphanumeric characters.

3. Turnaround time

Some self-service translation platforms include a slider or sub-menu for the client’s desired turnaround time (TAT). The shorter their expected timeline, the more expensive a translation gets.

Freelancers and human translation services also offer rush delivery options, which can have a TAT of less than 24 hours. However, clients should expect to pay substantially higher than the translator’s standard fees.

4. Content type

In the translation industry, projects are typically classified into two categories: general and specialized with different pricing applied to each.

General projects cover the vast majority of translation jobs — from blog posts to email newsletters. These are projects that don’t need a specialist translator.

Specialized projects like legal documents and medical device Instructions for Use (IFU) require certified translators. As such, these projects may cost significantly more than general document translation jobs.

5. TEP tasks

“TEP” stands for Translation, Editing, and Proofreading — a widely-used workflow by LSPs.

Each task in the TEP workflow takes resources, which increases the price of a translation project.

While some LSPs and freelancers may offer translation-only services, foregoing the editing and proofreading processes may compromise translation quality.

6. Translation technology

Technologies used in a translation workflow can either increase or reduce the service’s cost. Project management systems, content editing tools, and localization platforms, for example, may inflate the translation’s cost.

Translation software like Translation Memory databases, MT platforms, and automated proofreading tools do the opposite. By reducing the workload of human translators and speeding up project timelines, LSPs with CAT tools can offer translation services at a cheaper rate.

LSPs may also use AI-based Quality Estimation (QE) greatly increase efficiency and reduce operational costs.

Here at Unbabel, we use AI to instantly evaluate the quality of translations. High-quality translations are instantly verified, leaving only unacceptable translations for human post-editing.

Customers Also Ask

How does translation work?

Translation projects are performed by human translators, machine translation technology, or both. Utilizing a combination of AI-based translations and human editors ensures a quick and affordable translation process without compromising quality.

What is the minimum translation rate?

The American Translators Association proposed that translators should request a minimum of $0.12 per word. Some translators, particularly non-US-based freelancers, may charge less than this minimum — it’s up to their negotiations with clients.

How can I reduce translation costs?

Translation costs can be reduced with CAT tools and top-notch Quality Estimation (QE) systems, which reduce the workload of human translators. Some LSPs also offer reduced rates for bulk orders.

Make the most out of your translation budget with Unbabel

Are you looking for cost-effective, high-quality professional translation services?

With Unbabel’s award-winning, AI-powered QE system, we keep post-production costs affordable while ensuring unparalleled accuracy and swift turnaround times.

Discover how to supercharge translations with Unbabel. Request a demo and get started today!

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