Translation comes at a Price or How my Love of Languages turned into the Art of Calculation (with apologies to Dr Strangelove)

When I started translating professionally, translation agencies offered me their rates. A common request is per 1,000 target words (the resulting translation), but a source word count is sometimes used. So, you need to be aware of the likely difference between source and target word counts. This depends on the type of document. There are certainly differences between languages as well. For example, compound German words become longer phrases in English. Will cultural/historical references require an explanation in the target language? Can a long instruction in the source language be turned into a snappy expression in the target one?

Minimum versus maximum

Of course, if a document is quite short, such as one page (300 words or fewer), you could offer a minimum fee. This is a flat rate. Whatever you charge, you need to know how long it takes to carry out each project in advance. In this way, you will meet your deadline and charge a fair price. Other rates used are per word, per question (for a quiz machine, for example) and per certificate. Here, you need to consider the time it takes to reproduce formatting.

It is also common practice to charge an hourly rate for revision, i.e. checking a translation against its source text and correcting it for translation errors along with grammar and spelling mistakes. A pace of 1,000 source words per hour is expected. If proofreading a text without reference to its source document, then 2,000 words per hour is reasonable. An hourly rate is also appropriate when there are some sections for translation and revision alongside others where only proofreading is required.

Different (key) strokes for different folks

A price per line may also be quoted for a translation. A line is not a number of words, but 55 characters with or without spaces, based on the source or target text(!)

Having a variety of clients over more than two decades means that I have been paid in Australian dollars, German marks, Austrian schillings, Swiss francs, euro and pound sterling, to name a few. Currency converter websites are, therefore, a helpful guide to establishing a rate for your quote. This will not necessarily mean that you receive the same rate once you are paid though, unless you insist on payment in advance – exchange rates fluctuate and there may be bank charges. So, it is a mathematical jungle out there.

“Simplify, simplify” – Henry David Thoreau

In recent years, I have found several of my clients are happy with an hourly rate for proofreading, revision and translation. This works well. Be clear regarding the time required so that you can agree on a fair price. It takes time and experience to know what you can achieve in any timescale. Besides this, you also need unpaid time for admin, CPD, networking and holidays – remember to take a break!

With best wishes, in these difficult times, to all my clients and colleagues.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: