Calculating translation costs is still a mystery, especially to clients and translators themselves. There are various fees set in the same language pair, such as English-Japanese or Chinese-Spanish, which makes many clients feel confused to make a reasonable offer. Each language has its own idiosyncrasies or difficulties that make it difficult to calculate a precise and uniform price globally.
While there is no standardized pricing, the formula for calculating translation costs used by agencies is quite similar. Translation agencies, vendors, or language service providers will usually break down the basic costs that include technology and labor costs to determine the initial project cost when they bid on any project that the clients require.
It is important to note that vendors usually hire not only translators but also editors, marketing experts, engineers, or technologists to carry out certain tasks. Costs can balloon if the client requires a short turnaround time which means additional labor costs to get all the work done on time. Therefore, both the client and the vendor should have a common understanding of the project goals. Miscommunication can cost more or jeopardize the project in a botched situation.
Important Factors in Determining Translation Costs
In calculating the total translation price, the vendor will multiply the volume of the text or project by the base price. The vendor will indicate the volume based on specific measures such as the number of words, sentences, or pages. Then, the cost will be presented in units such as cost per word, per sentence, per page, or per hour to simplify further calculations if there is a change in project volume. In some languages that use symbols instead of letters of the alphabet like Chinese and Japanese, the translation rate will be based on the total characters of the text. In some projects, the total volume will be reduced by the number of repetitions of phrases or sentences so that a net volume called translation material can be obtained.
While each vendor or agency often has a different base price, the considerations are often based on the same calculations. However, the base translation price is widely varied depending on several considerations. There are at least six important factors in determining the cost of translation or localization services, some of which are explained below.
- The complexity of the text
The complexity of the text will affect the type of human resources who will handle the translation process. There are at least general, technical, legal, or commercial categories which each needs specialized translators and related field experts. In translation, specialization will grant the accuracy of the translation results. It often requires further certification, specialized education, and training that makes these people valued higher compared to the general translators.
- Media Type
In the past, translation mostly dealt with print media because there were very few other types of written media available compared to today. When technology has been getting advanced, translation often deals with a multitype of media such as websites, applications, computer software, and DTP. In handling the texts in different array of platforms, translation job now requires special technology and translation engineers to extract translatable materials. Once the translators have finished translating, these engineers will assemble everything according to the original layout before delivering the final result to the client. This process is often complicated thus it will require additional expenses for the experts and will also create additional costs as such software is hardly available for free.
- Language Pairs
The third factor in deciding the translation base rate is the availability of translators of the indicated language pairs or language combinations. In the common language pairs, the competition among translators is higher compared with the rare language pairs. Besides the availability of translators, language complexity (characters, grammar, syntax, etc) is calculated since it is relevant to measure the complexity of the materials.
- Nature of project
Projects normally come in different sizes, specifications, and requirements. Clients sometimes get a little bit strict about the requirement like specific turnaround time. The faster the completion duration, it is the higher the cost since vendors need to onboard extra labor and may ask them to work overtime. If a short turnaround time can make the price higher, the large nature of the project without a tight deadline is a point that can make the price cheaper.
- Location of the translator
Some projects can have specific requirements such as the translator must be a native speaker of the target language or even more specific such as a speaker of a particular dialect of the target language. Translation costs are often ballooned by the translator’s high rate because they live in a country with a high cost of living.
- Quality assurance
To ensure the accuracy and quality of the translation, a longer review and revision process by editors and proofreaders is required before the translation is submitted. This can add to the overall cost of the translation project due to higher working hours than necessary. However, many vendors provide complete services including quality control at no additional cost at a later date.