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  • Writer's pictureNikolaj Widenmann

How Much Does a Translation Cost?

Translations do not come with a set price tag. Each translation project is unique and requires unique translation solutions. The resources involved and the time invested can vary greatly.

Sometimes, I receive a request for a price quote for translating a five-page document from Spanish to English. That’s it. No further information. Is it a contract or a letter to someone’s grandmother? When information is scarce, it is a bit like calling the mechanic and saying, “My car just broke down. How much will it cost to fix it?” A Ferrari with a blown transmission will blow your budget; a Chevy with a loose spark plug will draw a sigh of relief.

Typically, translators do not quote by the page, but by the word (in some European countries, prices run by the line). That approach is fair to the client and fair to the translation provider. After all, a page can have anywhere from a single word to hundreds of words.

However, the word count is only one of many factors that influence the final price. Other factors include the following:

  • Language combination(s): Spanish to English? Swahili to German? English to Icelandic? Danish to Turkish? Some language combinations are more common than others. The market for Spanish to English and English to Spanish translations is enormous. Spanish/English translators abound as well. As a result, translations between Spanish and English tend to be less expensive than other, less common language combinations. For example, I am certified by the American Translators Association as a Spanish to English and a Danish to English translator. For Spanish to English, there are currently 317 ATA-certified translators; for the Danish to English combination, I belong to an exclusive group of just 13 (source: The fewer the number of professional translators for a given language combination, the higher the price.

  • Complexity: The price can also vary according to subject matter. A discharge summary from an open-heart surgical procedure – complete with surgical notes and replete with medical abbreviations – can be more difficult to translate than a letter to the editor. So can a real estate contract and court documents. Often, a successful outcome in such translation projects requires a translator specializing in a particular field, such as #legaltranslation.

  • Format: From handwritten 16th-century ecclesiastical records to blurry PDF documents with complex tables that will need to be recreated, file and document formats vary. In cases where replicating the format is essential, even more time is required from the translator – and possibly from a separate DTP team – to ensure a perfect layout. Formatting issues can also affect the price of a translation. I generally recommend submitting the Word file in which the document was originally created (if available), rather than a PDF file. PDF files with text that is not editable – or cannot easily be rendered editable – will take longer to translate.

  • Audio: Audio transcription and translation introduces multiple additional factors, such as audio quality, rate of speech, clarity of speech, dialectal differences, etc. An interview with a chemistry professor and a recorded phone call from a prisoner to an “associate” on the outside can be complex in their own way. Audio translations are typically billed by minute of recording.

  • Certified translations: Need it certified? Need it notarized, too? Depending on the intended use of a translation, the fields of law, education, and medicine often require a #certifiedtranslation. Sometimes, the certification needs to be notarized (which, in the U.S., is intended to verify that the translator truly is who he/she purports to be). While large translation companies (with a larger overhead) may have a notary among the staff, smaller translation agencies and individual translators may need to spend time to visit a notary.

  • Urgency: Urgent translations may require translators and reviewers to work overtime, evening hours, in the middle of the night, and weekends. It also requires them to set aside other work. You can normally expect to pay extra for urgent translations. In these cases, it is crucial to remember that the translators do not just swap words between languages; they recreate an entirely new text, making sure that everything is correct, that it does not read like a translation, and – in the case of a legal translation – that the proper legal terminology is used. Consider this: how long did it take your company to craft the original text?

  • Quality and purpose: Is the translation intended for litigation, is national security at stake, or does the translation consist of an office memo regarding next Friday’s pizza party? In some cases, more than just one review is needed. At WTS Translations, we make sure to have at least a second translator review the translation.

To provide a translation quote, I typically request an electronic copy of the file and information that will shed as much light as possible on the above factors. This will enable me to determine the resources required for successful delivery, the estimated time needed, and how much the translation is going to cost.


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