Translation Rates and How to Reduce the Cost of Translation

Translation can be a powerful investment in your business, generating significant ROI. However, decision-makers tend to view it as a cost center.

To win approval for key translation projects, you need to understand how translation rates are determined, what factors go into pricing a project, and how you can make smart decisions that keep translation costs at a minimum.

How are language services priced?

Per-word translation rates are still the industry standard

Translation projects are most often priced based on the word count of the source document. That word count is then multiplied by a per-word translation rate. Depending on the nature of the project, further fees may be added for formatting, additional QA, etc.

There are exceptions to the per-word translation rates rule. For example, German translators might charge per line instead of per word. Translations from character-based languages (such as Japanese or Chinese) are calculated either at a higher per-character rate or per target word since a single character can convey an entire phrase.

If it is impossible to calculate the word count accurately—for example, in the case of a scanned, handwritten document—a per-page rate is established.

The other exception worth mentioning is multimedia. In subtitling and audio/video translation, a per-minute rate is typically billed, unless the task is broken down into transcription and translation as two separate services. In that case, the transcription will be billed per minute and the translation per word identifiable once the audio is transcribed.

Translation rates vary by language pair

Like all industries, translation is governed by the law of supply and demand. 

Language pairs with a large pool of available translators and editors, such as from English into Spanish, or from English into Chinese, tend to cost less. Those with fewer translators, such as English into Swedish or English into Icelandic, tend to command higher rates. 

The cost of living in the target market also impacts translation rates. Because it is so costly to live in the Nordic countries, for example, linguists residing there tend to charge higher rates to cover the cost of living. In comparison, translation into Brazilian Portuguese may be significantly cheaper because of a lower overall cost of living.

Subject matter also affects translation rates

Supply and demand also come into play with regards to subject matter. Highly specialized linguists charge accordingly for their expertise. Relatively few translators have law degrees, so a legal translator with a formal degree will likely charge higher translation rates than a colleague without the same qualifications.

The same applies when a translation needs to be certified by a translator with a specific credential. These translators are often in high demand.

Computer-aided translation tools can reduce translation costs

Computer-aided translation tools (or CAT tools, for short) can help reduce translation costs by allowing translators to see how similar segments have been translated before, and even insert those translations into their current project.

CAT tools can also detect “repetitions” and segments with a “match” in the translation memory. These are billed at different rates than brand-new segments because they typically require revision instead of translation from scratch, or they need only to be confirmed by the linguist.

For more on how CAT tools work—and why they are not the same as machine translation—see this blog post.

Ways to Reduce Translation Costs

Despite the role that language pairs and subject matter play in determining translation rates, there are still many ways to keep translation costs in check. 

Let’s take a look at some common strategies for managing translation costs:

Develop a translation memory

As discussed earlier in this post, CAT tools can help keep translation costs at bay. To get the most out of these powerful tools, you will need a translation memory—a database that stores segments from the original file, paired with their translations in the target language.

A translation memory is especially useful for documents that are updated on a regular basis. For example, your company’s annual report, or a product catalogue will contain similar language each year. With a translation memory, the CAT tool will identify translations that can be a possible match, and the linguist will then make necessary edits. As a bonus, this also accelerates the translation process.

Approve content before it is submitted for translation

It may be tempting to get a head start on the translation process by submitting a draft version of your content.

But what happens when the final draft is approved—with significant changes in place?

Any new or modified content will need to be retranslated, billed at the regular translation rate. If the document had already reached the formatting stage, it may also incur additional DTP costs.

To avoid paying more than once for a single document, wait until it is final and approved before sending it for translation. If that means there will be a tight turnaround for translation, advise your language services provider so that they can schedule resources in advance. Which brings us to our next piece of advice:

Plan ahead to avoid rush translation rates

Rush requests mean that the team has to put aside other projects to accommodate your urgency or work after hours and juggle changes to their schedules.

Such requests create much stress for everybody involved and are not always possible to meet. The stress and extra cost can easily be avoided if you plan your deadlines considering the time required for translation and provide a heads-up whenever possible.

At Art One Translations, we have found that advance notice helps us ensure that we have a dedicated team in place to handle your request. When we can plan for a project, we can also choose linguists based on subject matter expertise and familiarity with your product and brand, rather than just their availability on short notice.

As much as we try to avoid rush jobs and charging higher translation rates associated with them, we understand that on some occasions, as with time-sensitive RFPs translation, for example, the urgency is unavoidable. 

In such cases, we do our best to accommodate such requests. We have been able to meet very tight and close to impossible deadlines for our clients, enabling them to submit their proposals on or before the deadline. 

For the sake of the well-being of our team, however, and to maintain our high quality standards, we reserve such situations for exceptional circumstances and avoid working in such mode on a regular basis.

Pay close attention to the scope of work

When planning a translation project, take a close look at the scope of work to ensure that only necessary content is translated. It may help to have the documents reviewed by a team member in the target market who can point out unnecessary sections.

For example, all German-language websites are required to have an “Impressum,” which is a type of legal notice. But this information is not necessary when the site is published for other markets, and this page should be excluded from the scope of work for a website localization project.

A few hundred words here and there can quickly add up—especially if you have multiple target languages. Careful review of the scope of work can prevent cost overruns.

Involve internal resources from the beginning

Does your translated content need to be approved by team members who speak the target language? 

The best way to avoid retranslation costs is by involving them in the process early and often. Start by asking them to approve the glossary and the style guide in the beginning of the project. Have them review content during the process and ensure that they are available so that linguists can send queries and request clarification, if needed.

If more than one reviewer is involved, nominate one person to gather feedback and make final decision. 

Clear communication between the translation team and internal reviewers can help avoid retranslation costs down the line.

Write and edit your source-language content with translation in mind

“Omit needless words.” It is one of the most famous pieces of writing advice in the English language (from Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style), and it remains relevant when writing for translation.

Given that translation rates depend on the total word count, one of the simplest ways to reduce the cost of translation is by judicious editing. Eliminate wordy passages and clunky phrases, and not only will your source text improve, but translation costs will decrease. Plus, clearer source texts make translation errors less likely. 

For examples of what that might look like, the Translation Centre within the EU has a guide that provides detailed advice.

Choose an easy-to-translate file format

Desktop publishing, or DTP for short, takes place once a document has been translated. The DTP team takes the translated text and provides typesetting so that it has the same look and feel like the source document.

DTP costs are typically billed at a per-hour rate, in addition to the per-word translation rates for each document. If the chosen file type does not preserve formatting or pagination, or in case with foreign text expansion or shrinking compared to the source, the DTP team may have to start from scratch, driving up costs.

Sending original files reduces costs (and accelerates the process). For example, if you submit a user manual in PDF format, the DTP team can recreate it in the target language, but it will be a time-consuming task.  But if you submit the InDesign or Publisher files used to generate the PDF, they can insert the translated copy directly into that file.

Learn more about file types for technical documentation translation.

The lowest bid may cost you more in the long run

Translation Rates

This may seem counterintuitive: the best way to save on localization is to choose the company with the lowest translation rates, right?

But before selecting a language services provider, you will need to do due diligence to ensure that the end product will measure up. If an LSP cuts corners in terms of the linguists they hire, or by skipping key steps in the quality control process, you may need to incur retranslation costs. And if the translation has already been published, the costs may also include reprinting or even crisis communications, depending on the nature of the issue.

When you select a language services provider, look at the value they offer rather than their translation rates. This will guarantee you savings in the long run—not just savings in terms of cost, but also in reduced time to market and less time spent by internal resources, which will translate to peace of mind and the confidence to launch in new markets. 

The added value is in efficient project management, vendor sourcing and management, knowledge of your industry and your target markets, terminology management, responsiveness, and quick turnaround times that improve the overall customer experience. Look also for turnkey solutions and an easily scalable business model to assure your translation partner can accommodate your increasing demands and continue to meet your translation needs as you grow.

Remember, the price of the service is irrelevant; the value is. Because you are not buying the service, you are buying the outcome.

At Art One Translations, we pair years of experience with a tried-and-tested translation process, ensuring we deliver high-quality translations without cost overruns. If you need a cost-effective translation solution that delivers value and long-term outcomes, with reasonable translation rates, please contact us to see how we can help you get more business more effectively.

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