What Does a Translation Cost?

Companies with large-scale translation projects need to understand translation costs at a more granular level in order to truly get a clear sense of what they will pay for a translation project.  Depending on the type of content, translation cost may be limited to a price per word model.  In other cases, a translation project requires many workflow steps that can create a higher total translation cost.

Translation cost varies widely and depends on several major factors:

1) Who is doing the translation?  Are they certified professional translators, in-house employees, community members, or is it machine translation?  In general, professional translation costs the most but offers the highest quality.  In addition, if you purchase translations from a large agency, you’ll often be paying a higher translation cost for the large agency to sub-contract with smaller, more specialized agencies, who in turn, sub-contract to freelancers, who incur a lower translation cost.

2) Where are the translation providers located?  Translation providers can be located anywhere in the world, and their cost of living often influences the price the customer pays, and thus the translation cost.  Currency conversion rates can also impact translation costs.

3) Which language and which country is the content going into?  Translation for some languages, like Norwegian, will most likely only be sourced in Norway, where the cost of living is higher than in other countries. The translation cost for a language like Norwegian will be rather high. In fact, going into a language that is linguistically distant, such as Norwegian to Vietnamese, will often cost even more, because translators for these combinations are rare. Often, instead of using a single translation, multiple translators will need to translate using a pivot language. The translation cost will be higher in such bases, because translation first needs to occur from Norwegian into, say English, and then from English into Vietnamese.

4) What type of content is it? Depending on the type of content, translation can be more or less expensive. Having someone translate website content, for example, will typically cost more than translating an email.

Technology and Globalization Trigger Changes in Translation Costs

Research on translation costs from Common Sense Advisory shows that the average price of translation has been falling year over year, for several reasons:

  • More translation is happening in lower-cost languages and countries. In the past, many companies only translated into the most popular languages, such as French, Italian, German, and Spanish, collectively known as FIGS.  As a larger percentage of translation occurring throughout the world is moving away from FIGS and toward other languages, especially languages used in Asia, the average cost of translation is going down to reflect the lower cost of living in many Asian economies.
  • The translation supply chain is being disrupted. Today, it’s easier than ever for businesses to work directly with freelance translation professionals instead of having to rely on agencies to source translators for them. As such, fewer and fewer companies are relying on large agencies, known as multi-language vendors (MLVs). More companies are able to source translations from smaller agencies and freelance translation professionals.
  • Technology is increasing productivity and translation throughput. With more and more content being produced every day, companies struggle to get their translations produced quickly enough. As a result, more companies are relying on technology, such as translation memory and machine translation, to speed up the process and ensure that translations can be produced quickly enough for their global customers and users.

About Nataly Kelly

Nataly brings nearly two decades of translation industry experience to Smartling, most recently as Chief Research Officer at industry research firm Common Sense Advisory. Previously, she held positions at AT&T Language Line and NetworkOmni (acquired by Language Line), where she oversaw product development. A veteran translator and certified court interpreter for Spanish, she has formally studied seven languages, and is currently learning Irish. A former Fulbright scholar in sociolinguistics, Nataly lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. When she isn’t working, you’ll usually find her translating Ecuadorian poetry, writing books, and exploring the world (36 countries and counting!).