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Why do prices charged by translation agencies vary so much?

Hi, I need to get a translation done for my company and I’ve got a few quotes from different agencies but the prices are all over the place. Some are very cheap but some are much more expensive. Why is this?

Hi Shelly,

What a great question. It’s one which we get asked all the time so I’m very glad that you’ve given me the opportunity to answer it here.

Translation prices vary widely – so does quality

A recent survey we commissioned showed that prices charged by translation companies vary widely for what appeared to be the same product. But it’s important to compare apples with apples.

Some companies charged well in excess of double what others charged for translating exactly the same document. Some of the cheapest prices were to be found in Asia, most notably India and China.

Whilst overheads are undoubtedly lower in some countries than in others, the internet has led to people offering translation services who really should not be doing so.

We receive several requests in broken English every day from foreign companies and individuals seeking ‘cooperation’ as outsourcing partners.

Often their English is so bad it is really not clear what they are proposing. If that is the quality of the English they use when soliciting business, I shudder to think what the quality of their translation work must be like.

Here’s a couple of applications which came in just the other day (I’ve deleted the applicants’ names and their references to our competitors to save embarrassment).

“Dear laydies and Gentelmens,
Due to I am searching for a post as a translaitor in freelance mode I get in touch you offering my knowledge as a research in biomedicine area. Therefore I am interested on translation in my mother tonge articles, text, etc in both ares of biomedical and biotechnogies. And that’t the reason why I send you my expedient.
Please, don’t hesitate to get in touch me in case there will be any vacancy. You can do it by phone <Deleted> and also by e-mail: <Deleted>
Thanks for your time
Best regards

…. Here’s another one.

“Respected Sir, 
My name is <Deleted>, i am from <Deleted>.We are in to the field of Translation.

I request you to check the attached profile and do needful when you have any Translation projects.We will give you the best quality work and affordable rates.Please consider this mail and do needful…

We are doing translation job from a local client who is getting jobs from USA.We are the people behind such local clients and do translations. Request you to consider our mail and give us an oppurtunity.

To prove our quality we are ready to do sample project
by which you can see our quality and accuracy.

Definetly, <Deleted> will be a part of your success.

You can also help us by refering to your known company’s…

Waiting for a positive reply from your side…<Deleted>”

I wrote back asking if they translated foreign languages into English to which I received the following reply,

“Respected Sir,

We translate all languages Vice-Versa(Langauges mentioned in our profile).

Please consider us and give a chance.

Waiting for a positive reply from your side…”

You’ll be pleased to hear that we don’t hire translators such as these as we have a very strict translator selection policy but, presumably, some of our competitors must give them work or they wouldn’t keep applying.

As the old saying goes “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”, never has this been more true than in the translation industry.

Other factors which affect translation prices

Apart from the quality of the translator who works on your project there are some structural variations in pricing models which also come in to play at the quote stage.

Source and target language translations

One of the most important of which is whether or not you are being quoted based on the source language to be translated or the target  language which is being translated into.

We always quote based on the source language as that gives you a much clearer indication of the final cost of the finished job than basing the numbers on the target language due to a phenomenon known as translation word expansion.

Quite apart from the inherrent differences in the number of words required, we think charging by the number of target words is unfair as it means that you, the customer, do not know how much you will be charged until the job is done.

It also gives unscrupulous translation companies licence to produce sloppy and long winded text just to inflate their bill.

How many of us can remember being told at school we had to write an essay which was, say, 5 pages long. We just padded things out right? Why would you want to give your translation company the opportunity to make more money by waffling?

By concentrating on the target language, all of this ambiguity is avoided.

Language pairs to be translated

Different language pairs cost different amounts.

This is due to simple supply and demand. It is much cheaper to translate a French document into English than it is to translate a Japanese document into English.

It is more expensive still to translate a Korean document into, say, Dutch, as the number of people capable of doing this is much smaller than the more usual language pairs.

Technical complexity and format of document to be translated

It is much easier, and therefore usually quicker, to translate a simple document than to work with highly technical documents which include numerous diagrams, tables and other graphical elements.

It’s also much easier to work with documents presented as a word processed file than having to work from difficult to read faxes and hand written documents.

Some agencies are quick to charge a premium for non-standard work whereas we do our best to avoid additional charges.

Translation Deadline

If you give the translation company a realistic deadline they are likely to be able to do the work cheaper than having to do a rush job.

Why? Well, a translator can usually translate between 2000 and 2500 words a day comfortably.

If you have a 10,000 word document and a deadline of about a week, it can be given to a single person to complete the whole job from start to finish.
If you need it back by the next day then the translation company will have to split it up between a number of individuals and then recombine it into a single document at the end.

Whilst this can be done, and technology can be used to ensure consistency of terminology, it does mean much more work for the translation company as they will have to deal with several individuals and co-ordinate the work. This normally attracts a premium from agencies, we do our best to absorb these costs so that you don’t need to pay them.

Translation discounts and promotions

Like any other business, translation companies sometimes offer discounts and run promotions from time to time.

We offer volume discounts and even cash-back in some circumstances.

Translation price variance summary

Each translation company has it’s own charging structures but as a general rule, the notice you can give, the better price you are likely to be quoted.

I hope that helps.

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