How much does a translation cost?

by Teresa La Torre | 22 October 2018

Bank notes on washing line: symbolic image of translation cost

Image: LiliGraphie / Fotolia.com

Article revised on 14 February 2022

It depends. Like all services, there is no standard translation cost. Therefore, this question has no universal answer, because the price of a translation is influenced by a variety of factors.

Key information for determining the cost

Translation is a complex process: it is not a simple matter of transposing hollow words from one language into another, but conveying the content and meaning of the original text. This means that a translator will need certain information before they can calculate the effort needed to translate your text and thus the cost. If you want to have a text translated and are asking for a quote, be sure to provide your potential translator with the following information:

  • Language direction (English–German, German–English, etc.)
  • Text amount (number of pages, font size, or number of words)
  • Level of difficulty (general or specialized text, area of specialization)
  • File format (Word, PDF, Excel, InDesign, XML, etc.)
  • Target audience and purpose of the translation (internal communication, publication, increasing search engine ranking, triggering an emotional response etc.)
  • Urgency (when do you need the translation?)

These details will help your translator to get a rough picture of the work involved and give you an approximate price. To provide a definite quote, however, a professional translator will need to see the text to be translated. You can find details on my price ranges below.

Content determines translation cost

Many people think that translation means replacing English words, for example, with German ones. That’s not the case because the two languages do not correspond exactly. It is not the volume of text but rather the content that determines how much effort is needed for a translation. Content refers not only to the subject and specialist area of the text, but also to the quality. Is the text well structured? Are the statements formulated in a clear and comprehensible manner? Was the document created in compliance with the text type? These questions are important for user manual translation, for instance, and can only be answered after the text has been carefully examined. This is a prerequisite for estimating the effort required and thus the cost of a translation and the research involved.

How to reduce the cost of a translation

As a client, you want a translation that fits well into your existing corporate documents. Please help your translator to speak your language! Each company has its own terminology and spelling preferences. If you have terminology lists, abbreviation lists or existing translations, please give them to your translator. This will help reduce research effort and the cost of the translation. The reference documents you provide will convey how you want your messages to be formulated. And they will help your translator use your corporate language.

Comparing translation costs

Comparing prices is not always easy. In Germany, translations are commonly charged by standard line or sometimes by word. If you receive a line-based quote, pay special attention to the number of characters that is specified per standard line. Standard lines are not uniquely defined. According to the Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer (BDÜ, Federal Association of Translators and Interpreters), one standard line contains 50–55 characters, including spaces. With line-based charging, it’s common to invoice the number of standard lines in the target text (the translation). In this case, the cost is estimated based on the source text.

 In Anglo-American countries, translations have always been charged by word. This has been introduced in Germany in recent decades and is used in particular for technical translations. When the word-based charging method is used, the number of source words is billed.

The cost of website translation and transcreation

There are certain translation services and additional efforts for which the above-mentioned charging models are not suitable. This applies in particular to creative translation, also termed transcreation. It is impossible to charge for this combination of translation and creative copywriting either by the word or by the line, because the effort involved in the transcreation of just a few lines can be immense.

Producing an SEO translation of websites or advertising campaigns is also extremely time-intensive. It is a multilayered process, combining translation, search engine optimization and copywriting. Charging for these complex and creative tasks is normally done by the hour, therefore, or a flat fee is quoted for the translation costs.

The service dictates the price

Which quote will you opt for as a client? The lowest price? Which criteria are important to you and what are your requirments in respect of the translation? Find out the exact price in advance. Services such as transcreation, search engine optimization and keyword research are not charged by the word or line.

If you value intelligent technical translation, impactful transcreation or translation optimized for search engines, you need to find a professional with experience in the relevant field. Professional translators are members of associations such as the BDÜ. For more information on qualified translators, see my blog post: 5 tips for how to find a professional translator.

Translation pricing models: from my translation practice

For technical texts of a repetitive nature, which are updated at regular intervals, I usually charge by the number of words. My price here is from 0.19 to 0.25 euros per source word.

For other types of text I charge by the number of standard lines. My price is from 1.50 to 2.00 euros per standard line of target text. So that you know in advance what the translation will cost you, I provide a quote free of charge based on the source text.

Many colleagues have expanded their quotation spectrum in the recent past, as I have also. For transcreation and search-engine-optimized translations I provide a quote in advance. Since these are complex, multilayered services, in which the effort involved depends on the content in each case, I cannot give any specific price here. The price is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Do you want to know how much it will cost to process your text? I am happy to give you an idea of the likely cost of your translation.

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My name is Teresa La Torre. I work as a translator, SEO expert and copywriter, thus combining three skills that complement one another perfectly
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