How much does translation cost?

Paul Bickham
Managing Director | Sure Languages
12th July 2019

Ever wanted to know and fully understand what document translation costs, how it’s calculated and if there are ways you could save money? All your questions on pricing up a translation project are answered in this blog.

Some basics on document translation costs

Chances are you’ll either want to get three different quotes, or have your go-to translation company whip up a quote for you. Whatever you choose, when that proposal lands in your inbox, what will the factors be that affect the variation in price? There are a few factors, the main one being language combination, but experience of the translator, subject matter and formatting of the document can all affect translation price.

Translation costs are normally worked out on a price-per-word basis, and most translators and translation companies work to industry standard rates.

Generally, document translation prices range from £0.10 to £0.16 per word. So if you have a 1,000 word document, it will cost between £100 and £160 for translation. The cost of this is expected to lower over time as technology, such as neural machine translation, improves.  

But why the variation in cost per word?

Quite simply, when it comes to translation, some languages are more expensive than others.

Languages that are spoken by large numbers of people like Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and English – tend to cost less per word. Less common languages, spoken by less people like Icelandic, Nepalese and Maori, are generally more expensive.

What is it exactly that affects the price per word of translation?

Sometimes the supply of translators outweighs the demand for translation. When this happens the per-word rate is pushed down, as translators have to compete for work. At the same time, if the cost of living is low in a country, translators will charge lower rates too.

This is why Chinese is one of the least expensive translation languages, and why Norwegian, Icelandic and other Nordic languages are some of the most expensive - The cost of living is high, the demand for translation is high, but the number of translators is low.

So, your 10,000 word translation from English into Chinese might cost £1,000, but the same document translated into Icelandic might cost £1,600.

How do you know if you’re getting charged a fair price?

When you have nothing to compare it to, it is sometimes hard to tell if the price you’ve been quoted is a fair for the service you’re receiving. There are a couple of things to think about to make sure you’re not paying over the odds.

Firstly, be sure to check the quoted price against the industry standard rates. This will give you an indication as to whether your quote is within the normal standards, or totally far-fetched.

Secondly, think about the documents you need translating: Are they highly-technical packed with niche terminology that only a specialist would understand? Is it a glossy marketing brochure that needs creative artwork translation and localisation for a specific market? Or maybe it’s a high-volume document packed with floral language and literary devices. If the answer is yes to these, then the cost of your translation may be higher as you’ll need a translator with specialist skills to tackle the job.

However, when you have a simple document, such as a short email with a low word count, the translation should be relatively straightforward. As such, the cost should be kept to a minimum too.

Does the quality of the translation affect the price?

Some translation companies choose to offer an inexpensive basic translation service. Normally this means a cheap machine translation service with basic proofreading and editing on top. 

Machine translation is improving each and every day, and some AI-powered translation companies are starting to complete with certain content types. We’re still some way from human level quality though. Machine translation is ok when you don’t need to worry about the translation quality. but if you’re looking to accurately communicate with your customers, promote your brand and products or sell to an overseas market, you will need a high-quality translation service.

Don’t be tempted to save some budget and plug the content into Google Translate without any review or editing! This news story on the BBC is living proof that you shouldn’t use Google Translate for your important translation projects:

How can you be assured of the translation quality?

You can get a better understanding of the expertise, knowledge and professionalism of your translator or translation company by asking or looking for the following:

  1. Professional certification, credentials and any accreditation by official bodies such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI).
  2. Recommendations: Check out their Google Reviews
  3. Case studies from clients


Is there any way to save money on document translation without losing quality?

There are a few simple things you can do to cut the cost of document translation:

  1. Group together documents with low word counts to avoid minimum charges.
  2. High-volume projects may be suitable for a discount – think documents or groups of documents with more than 10,000 words.
  3. If your document is highly repetitive (i.e. terminology and phrases are regularly repeated), your translator or translation company may be able to offer you a discount due to specialist technology that calculates repetitions. Read more Translation Memory technology.


About the author

Paul Bickham is managing director of Sure Languages, a multi award-winning translation and interpreting company. The company helps some of the world’s leading organisations communicate in more than 100 languages and has offices in Edinburgh and Exeter. He studied Music and Law at university, and prior to Sure Languages had a successful career in the telecommunications industry. He serves on the Board of Directors for a residential property management group, as a Business Advisor to Young Enterprise UK and has volunteered for other children’s charities.

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