How the Cost of Service is Calculated


Egor Nashilov, Editor


One of the questions asked by our clients frequently is how we calculate the cost of our services. After all, on their side the process of translation and localization seems simple — they just send the document and get it back in another language. But it's all a bit more complicated than it appears. Let's take a look at what affects the final cost of a translation.


Basic factors

Like with any trade or service, translators work by the economic principle of supply and demand. In most cases, the following factors affect the final cost: the language pair, theme, deadline, required layout and additional services.

Simply put: the more unusual the combination, the higher the price. Translating a text from English to German is much simpler and less expensive than from Māori to Onandaga — the former is offered more readily, and the competition is therefore greater.

This is indirectly linked to the level of language proficiency. Services of a native speaker will always cost more than those of a specialist who studied the language in a college. At the same time, due to differences in the average wages, the work of a Swedish linguist will be several times more expensive than the services of his colleagues from India.

But it's not enough for a translator to speak a language well — it's important to understand the client's industry. If you produce high-tech parts for space telescopes, which are only understood by 1,000 people in the whole world, finding a competent contractor will be complicated. The price of translation in this case will be higher than, for example, for an online clothing store.

The urgency of a translation or localization order can significantly increase the price tag. The average output of one translator is typically within 7-8 pages of text per day (and it might be fewer for complicated technical documents). Of course, for a rush job a translator might get through 20 pages, but whether it would be a high-quality translation is a different question. Therefore, the larger and more urgent the order, the more translators must be involved in the process to spread the load — and the longer the bill for their work.

Layout and design for different languages also affect the cost. Images with text, lists and hard-coded headers make processing a document difficult.


arabic layout

Facebook in Arabic


The target language can also factor into the price of layout (and the final cost of service). Hebrew or Arabic text, which is written right to left, is more difficult to arrange attractively on a page than English or even Chinese. It is also more difficult to work with languages like Vietnamese, where diacritic marks can be found simultaneously above and below letters.

There are additional services that are negotiated and paid for separately. For example, software, service, video game, and website localization might include adaptations to the realities of the target market to better match consumer expectations.

Additional services also include localization testing, which can be used to make sure that the localized version of the service or product does not have annoying bugs or line breaks.

Video and multimedia localizations often include additional costs related to voiceover or subtitling.


Behind the scenes of translation

In localization, there's a standard by which any translation firm operates: TEP (translation, editing, proofreading). It means that any document will normally go through three stages:

  1. A translator receives the source text and works on it to produce a document in the target language. At this stage, the text might still contain inaccuracies and typos. The higher the translator's qualifications, the fewer the mistakes — but the more expensive their services.
  2. Next, an editor goes through the translated text. They look for grammatical and translation errors, check the document for stylistic correctness and proper vocabulary use. In some cases, a separate technical or scientific editor may be required (for example, if the text is related to a highly specific topic), though translators and editors are usually chosen with industry specifications in mind.
  3. The last step is proofreading. Here, the text is “polished”: punctuation is double-checked, and any remaining typos are rooted out.

During every step, a project manager is responsible for directing the team's workflow. It's the project manager's job to communicate with the client and ensure that materials proceed from one stage to the next accurately and on time. Ideally, the process involves four people, not including layout designers, software testers or other specialists that may be required in the scope of a project. Each involved specialist increases the total cost.


Let's look at an example.

You are offered TEP from English to Mandarin Chinese at the rate of $14 per page.

Is that a reasonable price?

The average cost for translation services in this language pair is normally around $0.04 per word. The cost of an editor is 60% that of a translator, so let's say $0.025. Proofreaders go for about $0.005 per word. Therefore, the net cost for the job not accounting for profit margins or other services is $0.07 per word.

An average A4 page fits 250 English words, therefore you are being offered a service at a price much cheaper than the net cost.

This means that such service provider must be cutting costs somehow: using machine translation, not editing the text, or using underqualified employees.


If you are offered TEP for a price lower than the net cost, this offer might not be entirely honest. Each specialist's services cost a certain amount of money, and your text will most likely skip some of the necessary steps.


Every word worth its weight in gold

Nowadays, people involved in the translation industry are accustomed to setting rates based on "effective" (unique) words rather than the number of pages. This is due in part to the fact that a page might be blank or have only two lines of text. In this case a client does not have to pay extra, and the contractor can work better knowing the precise word count.

The effective word count is also related to the use of CAT systems (computer-assisted translation), which keep a history of a client's previous texts. For example, after working on a large text about oil production, translating the next document will be simpler: the system will automatically translate any segments that are "the same as before".



CAT interface


Of course, translators double-check whether a phrase fits organically in context before using a hint, but it is still much faster than translating from scratch. Therefore, repeating segments are usually billed at a discount — the higher the percentage of matches, the lower the cost of the translation.


How to save on translation

It may be the case that a client is not concerned with a high-quality translation — for example when the text is guaranteed not to have a wide audience or will not leave the boundaries of the company. In such cases, one can resort to a few tricks that will help save some cash:

  • Use machine translation (MT). In this case an editor will need to proofread the text afterwards. Unfortunately, computer algorithms are still far from perfect in analyzing the context, so they might translate the word "лук" as "onion", even though we are talking about a bow.
  • Skip the editing. Be warned that by doing this you will inevitably receive an imperfect translation.
  • Send a high-quality source file in an editable format. Working from such source is much easier (and cheaper!), than trying to recreate a text from a JPG scan.

As you can see, there are many factors that influence the final price tag. That’s why localizers often cannot give a fixed price for their services and have to calculate the cost on a case-by-case basis, depending on the client’s requests and the goal of the project.


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