Translation costs: Different price models in the translation industry

According to an ancient myth recorded in the Bible, descendents of the survivors of the Great Flood decided to build a tower so tall that it could reach the heaven. God, unhappy with such inappropriate ambitions, intervened by mixing languages of the builders so that they became unable to communicate with each other, abandoned construction works and dispersed. In reality Etemenanki, the Great Ziggurat of Babylon with astonishing height of 91 meters, was sadly demolished on the orders of Alexander the Great ca. 331 BC. Although no myth should be understood too literally, communication between speakers of different languages is ever important today.

While translation is often considered as just a kind of technical support for other more important activities, high quality translation of not just literary but also some other texts is more of an art, and not an easy one at that. Indeed, there is frequent conflict between the two main dimensions of any translation, – fidelity and transparency. On one hand, translation should faithfully and accurately deliver the precise meaning of the source text; on the other – it should be perceived by a native speaker of the target language as if written in that language, conforming to its norms and stylistic patterns. Translator, depending on the context, has to find an optimal compromise between the literal translation and the transparent one conveying the essence and spirit of the text, therefore engaged in essentially interpreting ambiguities of the source text caused by polysemy, metaphors, idioms, and cultural contexts.


An example of translation from Chinese into English neglecting cultural context

With the development of machine translation a hope emerged that maybe soon there will be no need for employing human translators. However, no matter how much the translation technology evolves, making automatic translation process fully reliable and adequate without human intervention is not happening any time soon. A professional translator should be not just bilingual but also bicultural, and in addition creative and familiar with the subject matter. Thus, it is no surprise then that when a highest quality translation is needed, this may not come cheap. Respectively, the question often arises as to how much do translation services cost, how much in particular will be translation cost per word, and how the translation price is commonly calculated.

As a rule, there are several factors that are taken into account when determining pricing rates for translation services: Number of words in the source text; Amount of time required; Source and target languages; Complexity of the subject matter. Respectively, the calculation of translation costs per page will be conducted based on the format of the text (as that influences the size of text per page), i.e. eventually depending on translation price per word, and taking into account the complexity of the text; or, within an alternative pricing model,– all-inclusive translation cost is calculated based on the time needed to complete the whole assignment, which depends both on the size and on the complexity of the text, but also on the professional credentials of the translator, and the given combination of languages. That would also mean that hiring an accomplished professional translator or a best company may appear not only producing better translation, but paradoxically, even less costly as work is done faster.


Translation – communicates the substance of a source-language text by producing a target-language text with equivalent content, thus interpreting the meaning of the source text and attempting to produce exactly the same meaning in another language. The translation is characterized by fidelity (i.e. faithfully conveying the full meaning of the original text), and transparency (i.e. producing grammatically correct and idiomatic text characterized by full functional equivalence, to be perceived as if produced by a native speaker in his/her own language). In reality, these two objectives cannot be always achieved simultaneously, so the majority of translations seek optimal compromise between these two aims.

Translation costs – are the rates charged for translations that may be agreed on at the beginning of any specific translation order, or may apply on a flat fee basis across different projects. The calculation of costs for any given text and language pair is conducted based on the number standard pages or more frequently the total number of words, or per number of hours required to complete the whole assignment. As a rule, a price per word methodology is considered to be more fair and reliable way to ensure accurate and predictable pricing. Actual rates may also vary depending on specific details such as the urgency and type of service, and importance/complexity of the document.

Automatic translation – is the computer based technology using digital computer systems and translation software for automatically translating texts from one natural language into another. Currently automatic translation is a rapidly developing area of applied studies, although the potential of automated translation and the possibility of achieving fully automatic machine translation of high quality have been questioned since its conception.

Source and target languages –source language refers to the document’s original language and target language refers to the language into which the document will be translated. The language combinations or pairs will be important factors in calculating the price of a translation project, and influencing the degree of complexity of the task at hand.

Polysemy, metaphor, idiom – Related linguistic phenomena characterized in case of polysemy by multiple meanings of a word within certain range of meanings (a semantic field); in the case of a metaphor, the word(s) may refer to one thing by mentioning some another thing, exploiting a form of analogy or similarity; finally, idiom refers to a fixed expression that in a given context conveys a figurative, rather than literal, meaning.

Cultural context – refers to the factors of culture, situation and circumstances influencing the meaning of a source document, and the conveyed meaning in the produced translation. Therefore, translator should be well aware of the cultural nuances of both the languages involved, and other circumstantial specificities, as translation implies more than just a word-by-word replacement from one language to the other. Cultural misinterpretations have led and can lead to misunderstanding and conflicts that cause losses on a huge scale for all parties involved.