Translation FAQ

How much does translation cost?

Translation costs vary between agency and freelancer. It is typically priced per word in the UK, per line in Germany and per page elsewhere. Others may price per project, per day or per hour. The simplest way to compare is to divide your total quote by the number of words in the project and you will have a good gauge for what you are being charged. Estimate some 3500 words per day and you can approximate how long it will take for a single translator or a small team, depending on their availability.

What is the translation process?

It’s usually as simple as an email with the file and a brief sent to the translator, the project is translated then returned by email with the invoice and any comments. The translation stage can involve computer assisted translation tools (CAT tools), which save every sentence translated and offer it up if a similar sentence returns later. They also retain formatting and allow the translator to build glossaries, memories and cross-reference their previous work and dictionaries. They can cost from free to thousands of pounds, but typically are in the £3-500 range, with annual upgrade and support costs.

How long does a translation take?

A translator can typically work at 3500 words per day. Sometimes more, sometimes less, all depending on the text. But for a well-considered, effective translation, pushing beyond this target is not advisable.

How do I know if it’s a good translation?

The acid test is usually to have another translator proofread and make comments. If the text sounds native, conveys all of the meaning of the original, without adding to it, then you’re on the way to enjoying a return on your translation investment. Could it be improved? Perhaps, depending on your target readership, particularly if they change over time, but in general what many novices call improvements are often fair alternatives, given the number of ways to say the same thing. If the tone of the translation suits the readership and conveys the meaning, that could be considered a successful, or good, translation.

Can a translation improve on an original?

It can in certain cases where the source text has spelling and grammar errors. It can in cases where the source text doesn’t speak clearly enough to the reader, in which case the translator has a decision to make about whether to diverge enough from the source to help the reader, or to retain the ambiguity to please the client. In most cases the client will appreciate an improvement for the target language, when mentioned in any comments. The goal isn’t necessarily to improve, but to offer a faithful, readable, native version of the original. If improvements can be made, everyone wins along the way.

Where do translators work?

Most of the world’s estimated 250,000 translators work from home offices. Most professionals are affiliated with a national body and attend events to top up their continued professional development. There are a number of ‘in-house’ translators, the figures for which I’ve never seen, who are staff of the companies involved and work exclusively for those companies. Freelancers work through agencies and direct clients, filling their days at their computers with projects emailed in on a regular basis.

How do translators make a living?

The work sent over by agencies and direct clients can provide a living. Income can rise and fall over time, but a living wage is certainly possible. There are translators grossing £100k+ pa, but those are outliers, with most studies showing an average more in line with national average wage figures.

How do translation agencies work? And which is cheaper, freelance translator or translation agency?

Translation agencies will manage your project, sometimes among several project managers, outsourcing the work to freelancers or occasionally in-house staff. They have overheads of office space and payroll which freelancers don’t have, thereby raising their prices for the same work. The advantage can be when a multilingual project arises you can leave it with the agency and they will handle the translator search and work. You pay a premium for the benefit, however. One drawback of the agency is that you don’t know who they are outsourcing to. This could be someone not entirely qualified to do the work. This is more transparent and direct with a freelance translator. In that case you could end up paying more and receiving less.

What should I look for in a translator?

You should look for qualifications, such as a degree in the source language. Years of work and life experience in a source language country and also in the specific industry of the source text. You should look for affiliation with a national translation association (ATA in America, CIoL or ITI in the UK, AUSIT in Australia, SFT in France, etc.) who will hold them and their membership accountable. The translator should respond quickly and professionally to your requests and want to refer back to you with any questions they may have about the text.

Have any more questions? Ask in the comments and I’ll add them here.

Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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