When hiring a translation company, many have difficulty understanding why there is such a variation in price among document translation services. The following are some of the major components of a translation project’s pricing structure, all of which may affect the final cost. A thorough understanding of these points will help you in choosing a document translation company that best fits your needs.

  • Document word count
    This is the main factor that will determine the cost of your translation. Whenever possible, the number of words, rather than the number of pages, is used as the basis for billing. A page may contain images or charts, or the text may simply end part of the way down a page. Word count gives an accurate assessment of the actual volume of translation to be done.
  • Formatting requirements
    Many documents contain photographs, graphs, tables, and the like, and part of a translator’s job is to render the translation faithfully, putting these elements in their proper places for full understanding of a document. If a document requires more formatting than usual (for example, if it would take a translator or the agency’s desktop publishing department significant amount of time per page to make the document look the way it should), there may be a formatting charge on top of the per-word charge.
  • Languages needed and translator availability
    There are some language pairs that are simply easier to find translators for than others. There are many factors involved in this:

    • The location of the translation company. For example, translation companies in the United States have easy access to a great many Spanish to English translators. However, they might have a harder time finding a Finnish to Latvian translator, while translation businesses located in Riga or Helsinki would not have that problem. Even though many freelancers work for translation agencies in more than one country, geographic clusters of language pairs persist. If a translator for a certain language pair is hard for a translation company to find, it is likely that that translator’s fees will be higher than those for a common language pair in the area.Also, document translation companies located in some countries may be more expensive than those in others, as businesses in countries with higher costs of living must pay their freelancers more in order to retain them. Does this mean that it’s more cost-effective to go with a translation company located in a country with a low cost of living? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. The most cost-effective solution in the long run is to choose a translation company that guarantees that it uses only native speakers of the target language, as they will be the best at rendering your text in fluid, natural-sounding language, and you won’t have to get your translation redone later.
    • Sociocultural relationships between the languages.
      In addition to the geographical relationships indicated above, each country has a unique set of sociocultural relations with other countries. This can affect translator availability. For instance, American and British interest in learning Russian declined after Cold War tensions eased in the 1990s, and many educational institutions scaled down their Russian departments or closed them altogether. As a result, it is now more difficult to find a native speaker of English who can translate Russian than it was 30 years ago. On the other hand, due to the influx of Western goods and entertainment into Russia, locating a native Russian-speaker who can translate English is far easier these days.

      Does it then follow that in such cases, it’s cheaper to go with a translator whose native language is the source language rather than the target language? Sadly, no. Although many translation agencies claim that any of their translators can translate a given language pair equally well in both directions (e.g., English to Russian and Russian to English), this is almost never true. Unless the translator grew up fully bilingual and received higher education in both languages, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to translate written documents into their
      foreign language using the appropriate style, usage, and grammar. As a result, again, you may have to find another translation service with native speakers after receiving an unsatisfactory result the first time around.

    • The number of people worldwide who are fluent in the language. It is a relatively simple task to find a translator who is fluent in French. After all, more than 75 million people are native speakers of the language globally, in many different countries. Locating a competent translator of Zigula, a language spoken by fewer than half a million people in Tanzania and Somalia, however, is considerably more of a challenge. The higher price for a translation involving a rare language is therefore a simple question of supply and demand: translators who work with less-common languages can charge a premium for their services, secure in the knowledge that they are among the few who provide them.
  • Agencies, individual freelancers, or staff translators?
    Document translation companies may use one business model or a combination of two or more to meet clients’ needs when it comes to their linguists. They may use individual freelancers, keep translators on staff as regular employees, or subcontract to other translation agencies. Obviously, the more people and companies who touch the translation, the more expensive the final product will be, so if a company gives you a high estimate for an unclear reason, you may want to find out from a representative whether this is why. When a translation company uses another company for your translation, it may cause quality issues, since the translation company you originally hired for the job may not run quality control on a finished translation coming from another translation service.

    As is sometimes difficult to find a translation service with access to a freelancer or on-site translator who can translate a rare language pair, it is occasionally inevitable that you will have to use a translation company that subcontracts to another company. After all, it’s not uncommon for the insiders of any industry to develop connections to other companies in the industry in order to meet client demands when their own resources come up short. However, if you are looking for a relatively easy-to-find language pair, the extra effort you may have to put forth at the beginning of the process in order to find a company that employs individuals with the skills you need will pay back dividends in the cost and quality of your final translation.

  • Additional included services
    A good document translation company won’t content itself with directly sending you a translation it has received from one of its translators. Some translation services are ISO certified, and, as such, they require that your translation go through several more steps before you see it to make sure it’s the best it can be. These steps typically include:

    • Bilingual editing/revision. Bilingual editing uses a second translator who is just as fluent in the language pair as is the original translator. This reviser compares the original document to the translation to check for any possible errors in translation, inappropriate style, grammar mistakes, and the like.
    • Proofreading/review. This step is undertaken by another linguist, who reviews the document for proper grammar, formatting, punctuation, and syntax, etc., as well as for completeness and to make sure any special requirements imposed by the client have been met.
    • Final review by the Project Manager to assure the final product is ready for delivery and meets all the deliverables expected by the client.
    • Desktop publishing (DTP)/formatting. If you have charts, photographs, or other images in your document, or if the formatting of the text of your document is exceptionally complex, the translation service may use specialist staff members to make your translation resemble the original document as closely as possible. More information on the translation steps can be found here; additional information on desktop publishing can be found here.
  • Overhead
    As with any company, translation agencies will charge you a percentage on top of the price of the service to cover fees and costs associated with running the business, such as the work of the project manager who oversees your project from start to finish; the services of the sales manager, translator recruiters, and so on; the training of linguists; the improvement of quality-oriented company procedures; software licenses fees; marketing costs, and various building maintenance and utilities fees.

If a translation company quotes you a fee that is much higher than others’, it might be a good idea to get in touch with them and request an explanation of their pricing structure. A quality company will not object to talking you through the reasons for the cost. It may be that it’s a better idea to select such a company for your project, as doing so may prevent you from having to get a low-quality translation redone, saving you money in the long run.

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