How much does translation cost?

How much does translation cost?

by Pilar Saslow

Pilar Saslow Translator

Pilar Saslow

Understandably, in this economy everyone is worried about costs. If you are wondering:  How much does it cost to translate a document?  What will I get for my money? Here are a few tips that might help you decide if you can afford not to translate.

Prices fluctuate over time. In this article, we hope to point out some of the main considerations in pricing translation services.


Quick Answers

      1. Translation services are usually quoted per word
      2. Document formatting is usually quoted per page or per hour
      3. Engineering services (Web site plumbing, software builds) are usually quoted per hour
      4. Functional testing (QA) is usually quoted per hour
      5. Project management is usually quoted as a percentage of all other services combined

How to make it Cost Less

Everybody wants translation to cost less. It’s a natural reaction in the face of receiving an estimate for something that seems as though it should be an inexpensive afterthought.

Here are some simple ways in which you can lower translation costs:

1. Hand the project off correctly (or nearly correctly) the first time, including everything translators, project managers, engineers and the Web team will need to deliver the product in a way that meets expectations and budget.

Make as few midstream changes as possible, because these usually involve stopping work across a long supply chain, evaluating the amount of already done work that can be salvaged, substituting the new work and restarting the project.

Provide as many additional materials (explanation of key terms in the product, previously acceptable translations) as possible, so that translators, who are by nature quite interested in quality, can understand the product and context with minimal delay.

2. Answer translators’ questions quickly to keep the project from getting bogged down.

3. Translate only the important parts of the message.

Can’t afford to translate your entire web site? Choose the most pertinent pages and create a small “web site within a web site” for your international customers. This will keep the cost of maintenance lower as well. Here’s another suggestion. Summarize lengthy documents.

4. Analyze your markets.

If your product is not popular in Italy, why translate the user instructions into Italian? If your software is only available in English, is there any point in translating the user manual into Czech or Chinese?

Translate only those pieces that are appropriate for overseas markets, and don’t invest in unnecessary translation. Ask for a summary of lengthy foreign documents. Your agent sent you a 65-page Danish electrical standard, and you only need the information contained in 15 pages—but which 15 pages? Ask your translator to provide a summary or abstract for a small fee, then purchase full translation for only the pages you need.

5. Fewer words; lower cost.

Translation is priced by the word, and every word you translate costs money. Eliminate enough of those words and you can save a substantial amount. Take a look at your user documentation and determine if there are portions that can be left out. For instance, an introductory section that describes your company background is not a requirement for operator safety. Motivational quotations or sidebar stories in your training manual may add interest, but also add to the translation cost. Get rid of them.

Be ruthless in your editing. Parts list? If customers order by part numbers instead of descriptions, leave the words out.

6. Keep it simple.

Translating a 64-page catalog with multiple columns, complex tables, detailed graphics and many words is a costly project. Pare it down and simplify the layout before translating. Another example: PowerPoint slides with ten bullet points, two animations, and intricate charts are expensive to translate. If it took many hours to create complex visuals, it will take the translator just as many hours to manipulate the translated text into the same format. Simplify and save money.

7. Let technology work for you.

Translation memory is the gold standard of the translation business today. If you’re translating repetitive material, make sure your translator is using translation memory tools. You should see discounts as you translate more and more materials.

8. Think boilerplate.

If the warranty or the “How to Get Help” section is always the same in your materials, don’t send them for translation more than once. Store the translated sections and place them in newly translated manuals. Even though translators will charge a lower rate per word if the material can be pulled from a translation memory database, there is still a charge. If you maintain the material, there’s no additional cost.

9. Use non-verbal graphics.

An additional step is required to replace words embedded in a graphic image, and this is a cost driver. Make it a practice to leave words out of any illustrations. If an explanation is required, place it in the text of the message. This will make the translation go faster and cost less.

Quality matters.

Some companies have turned to low cost translators as a way of stretching the budget. This is risky, at best. There is a broad range of quality in translation. When price is the only factor, amateurish translation is often the result. In turn, poor quality translation affects product satisfaction and corporate image, not to mention liability. Is a translation really a bargain when you receive so many complaints that you have to scrap it and start all over again? A better alternative is to evaluate translation needs, and simplify what you translate while maintaining an acceptable level of quality.

The author: Pilar Saslow is an English–Spanish Professional Translator and Interpreter with over 20 years of experience. She helps Fortune 100 companies, government agencies, and health and beauty consumer product businesses to effectively reach Spanish speakers in the US.