Why Translation Costs Vary Among Languages

When looking to translate a document for your company, you may desire to translate this document into multiple languages instead of just one. If you are translating an instruction manual into Spanish, Russian, and Japanese, for example, you may assume that the rate for each language will be the same, that the Spanish translation will cost the same as the Japanese, and so on. However, you may be surprised to see that the quoted rates vary among languages. There are several reasons why the cost varies from one language to another. The first, and most common, reason to consider is that more commonly used languages in business often have more available translators to work on the project. The more linguists there are who work in a specific field for each language pair, the more likely it is that there will be more competitive rates among them. For more obscure languages or those used less often in the specific field of your document’s content, there will be fewer linguists from which to choose. These linguists may be in high demand for their time and work, resulting in an increased rate.

For shorter documents, linguist minimum payments may also impact the resulting quoted rates. Linguists often charge minimums to ensure that they are compensated fairly for the time and overhead associated with doing the translation. If you have multiple short documents that you need translated, and can schedule them all at once, it is best to do so. Word counts can often be combined when multiple documents are assigned at once, helping you to avoid a minimum payment. For example, if you have three documents that need to be translated into Spanish at once, and their collective word count exceeds the linguist’s per-word minimum rate, but only one short Japanese document, you may end up paying more for the one Japanese document because of the required minimum. If you can combine shorter translations into one project, you will definitely get more for your dollar.

Quoted language rates may also differ based on word counts. Although most languages are quoted based on source word, others may need to be quoted based on the target word count. This can happen if the source document is a character-based language, such as Simplified Chinese, or if it is a file with no discernable word count (e.g. files that cannot be edited and counted, or audio files, for example). Although many language rates for translation are at least similar, it is still best to know that some languages will be more expensive than others, which may help you to best choose which languages you will choose to translate into if there is any priority among languages for your business.