The Bill, Please: An Overview of Compensation Models for Translations

Per word, per line, per page or just per hour? The range of billing possibilities for translations does not make it easy for purchasers to estimate translations costs. This article shall introduce some order and it shall also describe the advantages and disadvantages, based on day-to-day practice, when it comes to settling an invoice for translations.

What do you need to consider?

The following types of remuneration for translations can generally be used:

  • price per word in the source or target language,
  • price per line in the source or target language,
  • price per page in the source or target language,
  • price per hour.

Furthermore, prices may vary depending on the text type and specialist field of the text to be translated. Even language combinations vary in price. The most popular models are those which can be most easily calculated ahead of a project. And that is why payment per word based on the source language is clearly the most advantageous method.

A Sure Thing: Calculation based on the Source Language

It generally makes sense to calculate the price based on the source language. The alternative of settling an invoice based on words, lines or pages translated has the clear disadvantage that no offer can be made in advance because it is only possible to determine information regarding quantity when the work is done. Indeed, for some language combinations there is a substantial difference between the word count in the source and target language. This is because in one language one or two words contain the necessary information while the other language requires four or more. If you already know the scope of the source language and the target language, then you can determine the price. Finally, you can use values based on experience to determine how many words a translator can normally translate from one language into another in one hour. This is why invoices based on the source language are the most popular.

Prices per Word have many Advantages too

Translation memory systems (TMS) work in units of words and not in units of lines or pages. A TMS supports translators with their work because translations can be saved by segments (e.g. sentence by sentence) and they can be recalled from the TMS for similar or identical text passages. TMS analyse the text in advance by comparing it with translations which are already available in the system and by counting the passages which can be reused from previous translations on a word basis. Based on this analysis, the translator is able to estimate the workload required when translating the text. If the text contains repetitions, for example, which can be taken from the TMS, then you need less time to translate the text than if every sentence has to be translated individually without any input from a TMS.

Translation memory systems are state-of-the-art. Most translators use translation memory systems and the process of creating a tender or an invoice based on a word basis takes place automatically. In order to find an equivalent based on lines or pages, you would need to convert the word-based information, which has been produced by the translation memory system at a push of a button, into a formula and this process is very laborious. This also applies to tenders created on an hourly basis. Here too, the word-based analysis must be converted into a workload measured in hours.

Why Danish costs more than Russian

Another factor to consider is the target language: You will be dealing with differences in the cost of living, as many language service providers use translators who live in countries where their target language is spoken. A Russian specialist translator will, on average, charge less for his/her work than a Danish or Japanese specialist translator because living costs are lower in Russia than in Denmark or Japan. Furthermore, certain languages are more in demand that others, depending on the size of the product sales market. Therefore, there are either substantial or smaller translation needs relating to these products. For all these reasons, the amount you pay a specialist translator depends on his/her language combination.

Differences depending on Subject Area and Text Types

Regardless of the language, it is widely acknowledged that content also has an impact on a translation workload along with the sheer number of words and the amount of words which have been used before and are taken from the translation memory systems. There are two ways that this can be done:

The term “subject area” refers to company content from different industries. Translating texts for certain sectors which are strictly regulated, (e.g. in the pharmaceutical/medical sector) requires additional work and sometimes highly specialized expertise. This should be reflected in the price.

“Text type”, for example, includes texts for marketing brochures, the user interface of software applications or user manuals. These text types can occur in different sectors (subject areas) and translations of these text types require a different amount of time and effort. The translator requires more time for a creative marketing text which plays on words than for a clear and concise instruction manual.

Our Conclusion

Theoretically, if you use mixed costing for all language combinations, subject areas and text types, then you can set the same price. But this is not practical. In practice, the language-specific differences when paying translators and the different time and efforts required for different text types and specialist areas reveal a different picture. Here it makes most sense to share the actual requirements. This ensures transparency and helps the client in optimizing offers (and costs).