Barbara Jungwirth of reliable translations llc writes about language and the business of translation.

How Much Will It Cost? Part I

This may well be one of the first questions our hypothetical documentation manager (see “A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation”) asks. After all, he must present upper management with a cost estimate for this portion of the push into the US market. The answer, like that for so many other questions, is: it depends.

A number of different variables determine the price a mid-sized company looking to expand into foreign markets may pay for having their materials translated:

  1. The language combination
  2. The type of text
  3. The length of the document(s)
  4. The formatting and file type(s) of the original
  5. The desired quality of the translated text
  6. Whether or not an intermediary (translation agency) is used

1. The language combination

This is in part a question of supply and demand. In the US, many more translators work with Spanish than work with Azerbaijan, for example. On the other hand, fewer Azerbaijani documents require translation into English than do Spanish documents. Translations from languages that are very different from English may also take more time and effort than translations from a language that is very similar to English. Some industry organizations, such as the research firm Common Sense Advisory, have established average price ranges for specific language combinations.

2. The type of text

A translator must understand the text she is rendering in another language. Highly technical text will therefore require a translator with a technical background or at least experience with technical topics. The more specialized a text, the more specialized the translator needs to be. This means there are fewer translators who can handle that type of text, and they need to spend more time researching uncommon terminology. The translation of technical documents will therefore cost more per word than the translation of a general text.

3. The length of the document(s)

“Of course!” you will say. Three potatoes cost more than one, so translating three pages of text costs more than translating one page. That is true to some extent. While three potatoes provide three times as much nutrition, three pages of text do not necessarily require three times as much effort to translate. Generally, text segments that are repeated in a given document do not need to be translated twice. The translator still needs to check that the translation works properly in the new context, but he may offer a discount for such “exact matches”, as they are called in the industry.

Read explanations of items 4.-6. above in Part II of this post.
A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation lists the questions I will answer in this series of posts.

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