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Translation Pricing: Factors for Calculating Costs

You may be aware of the infamous Kentucky Fried Chicken fiasco in China. Their popular catchphrase “finger-lickin‘ good” was mistranslated into “we’ll eat your fingers off” in Mandarin! You can very well imagine what it could have cost the company’s business. It was a very close call, one which may have been avoided with a more credible translation source. Human translation services, however, have the reputation of being expensive. Pricing of translation services depends on a lot of factors, the main one being that the work is being done by humans and not by artificial intelligence.

Key factors that determine how translation pricing works:

Word count: The cost should be directly proportional to the number of words translated, right? Fortunately, that’s not always true. Although the word count has a lot to do with the final cost of a project, as word count increases, so do the number of repeated words and phrases. Language service providers (LSPs) build a translation memory that ensures the customer is not charged the same amount multiple times for repeated content.

Demand and supply: If the demand for translators is more than the supply, the prices go up. For instance, it is difficult to find translators for a rare language like Icelandic. So, LSPs charge premium rates for services in such languages. Likewise, if the supply of translators supersedes their demand, then the prices are kept low. For instance, there is an abundant number of speakers available for English, Spanish and French and so, translation costs are lower for more widely spoken languages.

The country’s economy: The cost of living differs from country to country. The economic climate determines how much a professional will charge for his or her services. In countries where regulations, taxes and living standards are relatively high, so are the costs. A reputed LSP will always source translations from native language speakers who spend a significant amount of time in the country from where the language originates.

Experience and expertise: For an urgent file, a client would need someone who translates accurately under a tight deadline. It goes without saying that an inexperienced translator wouldn’t fit the bill. Translation work done by experienced translators may seem pricey in the short run but the high degree of competence and accuracy will more than compensate for it in the long run. Seasoned translators have at least 5 years of experience and don’t require third-party validation for their work. That’s quite a bit of time and money saved!

Category of the text: Pricing of general text is lower than specialised or industry-specific text. Industry-specific translators not only need translation expertise, but they also need to know their industry in and out. That usually means that they need to have an educational background and certifications related to their subject area. For example, a translator working on a legal text should have experience working in the field of law from where he or she can draw practical insights.  

File format: The format in which a project is submitted will impact several other factors such as the level of expertise needed to work on it, the time it would take and how compatible it is with the current software and integrations used by the LSP. Word files and excel sheets are relatively easier to work with than an image file, an app or a website that may need to be translated and localised. It would also be more challenging for an LSP to find the right resource for the job, thereby increasing the price in proportion to the difficulty level of working with a specific format.

Urgency: Turnaround times differ for each service provider. The best ones will be able to provide translations up to 2000 words in 24 hours. Most LSPs will be able to expedite delivery for certain projects however, that would come with additional costs. It would probably entail several people working overtime to ensure a project is completed before the standard delivery time. Always look for a reliable company to ensure turnaround times and quality are never compromised.

If there are so many factors to keep in mind, why not just go for free online translation?

The first thing that would cross a client’s mind would be to get the translation done in-house via an app or software for cost reduction. However, bots and AI can’t comprehend context and translations end up being highly inaccurate. Similarly, localisation and transcreation are challenging, even for humans as they require a high level of creativity and exposure to the culture from where a language originates. While free translation tools may be mostly accurate, human translators strive to always be accurate.

Why should clients approach an LSP and not a freelance translator?

A translation agency would have tried and tested many translators and affiliated with them only after a thorough background and quality check. Moreover, top-rated LSPs offer a dedicated project manager who works closely with the client and the translator to optimise the flow of work. LSPs safeguard a client’s interest while working to meet tight deadlines, industry-specific requirements, translation into multiple languages, large files, and deal with different formats. A company specialising in language services may also offer additional services like localisation, transcription, subtitling, and voice-overs. LSPs are a one-stop solution to many of the language and communication-related challenges that businesses face.

How much does an agency really charge?

Starting costs per word can vary anywhere from $0.08 to $0.20 depending on the many factors explained earlier. A good LSP will provide you with a free price quote or estimate based on your file. The price estimate will depend on factors such as the language pair, category, urgency and any other special requests you may have. Check out this infographic to gain a quick understanding of translation pricing models.

Which agency should be hired for language services?

There are several ways for potential clients to check if an LSP is right for them. An LSP’s listed client-base is a good indicator of their credibility. Companies like Translate By Humans offer a free translation sample to potential business clients. If the sample meets your expectations, you can seal the deal!

What about discounts?

Most LSPs will make some provisions for discounts. Translation memories and glossaries are a great way to ensure translation costs remain affordable as the translation company already has a database for all recurring clients. NGOs are usually eligible for a flat discount on all language services. The best way to find out what discounts may be applicable is to reach out to the operations team for a price review. Remember, loyal clients always get the best discounts!

Is it really worth the cost?

Well, as they say, you get what you pay for. If you are building a brand, written communication is a vital part of brand recognition. Any grammatical errors or inaccurate translations can cost you your credibility and even your existing and potential clients.

As Ronak Thakkar, CEO of  Translate By Humans, puts it, “An investment in quality always pays the best interest.”

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