How Much Does a Translation Project Cost?

Apr 30, 2024

Being aware of what is included and what to expect provides a clear path to understanding translation cost. The price of a product or service is mainly influenced by production costs, supply, and demand. Price is dependent on the interaction between demand and supply within a market. The price of translation is not necessarily straight forward where many factors must be taken into consideration. If you can educate yourself properly without making assumptions, you will be able to get a sense of a reasonable market price. Remember this does not guarantee total satisfaction for the quality of translation itself where the onus is mainly on the supplier. With the emergence of machine translation and AI, the behavior of buyers and sellers have shifted, adjusting the market price in some situations. For example, some buyers expect quality translation relatively cheap with machine translation although this is in some cases a misconception. Some sellers have embraced machine translation and AI full fledgy promoting it as the ultimate solution. This can be a misconception as well. Sellers must clearly state and share the pros and cons of machine translation and AI. Although sellers are profit maximizers providing translation services based on the buyer’s lack of knowledge is disingenuous. Translation cost should be presented as clear as possible to the buyer. This is the job of the service provider. As mentioned before knowing what to expect is important.

What Are the Main Factors to Translation Cost?

Here is a list of the main factors which will help you better understand translation cost:

Subject Area

The subject area of your translation project including the degree of complexity will dictate the relative translation cost. From simple text such as an email or a blog post to difficult legal or medical text will determine the price. Imagine, the more people who can handle a project the cheaper the price becomes. If there is scarcity to who can handle a project, the price will be higher. These are good metrics to use to understand pricing better.

File Format

If the file is easy to handle and editable then usually no extra charge is necessary. If the provided file format is a standard form which is editable such as MS Office files or bilingual files it will be relatively easy for translators to handle utilizing CAT tools and TMS. On the other hand, files which are noneditable such as scanned files (if OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is not possible) will need to be handled manually. File handling such as OCR, checking, and retyping become an added cost. When requesting a translation estimate, if the document is provided beforehand these handling fees will be addressed if necessary. Any task that becomes necessary for file preparation becomes an added cost not including translation cost. Remember file handling/preparation and translation are separate entities which means separate costs.


The volume dictates the amount of translation which needs to be done. Translation is often priced on a per-word(character) basis but according to the target materials sometimes it is priced per page or per hour. The more volume there is the more expensive the translation gets. Although for some special cases if the subject area is complex even if the volume is low, estimates will be in the high price range. Also, most professional translators and agencies have a minimum service charge, even if the volume is minuscule. Keep in mind there is a minimum fee, and the price will increase from there according to volume.

Delivery Term

Ideally the translator and client can agree upon a delivery term that is reasonable. If this can be achieved usually there is no extra costs for standard delivery terms. On the other hand, if the deadline is tight usually an added cost is charged. Translators will have to work during off hours, weekends, or holidays to finish your requested translation earlier. Although the translator will handle the project to the best of their ability, a tight deadline could affect the quality which cannot be denied. Translators can only handle a certain volume per day till there are diminishing returns. Anything rushed usually never ends well. If you can negotiate a comfortable delivery term for both you and the translator, it will result in lower cost and better quality.

Language Combination

The language is a key factor on how translation is priced. A common way to measure price is the country’s population of the language to be translated. If there are more people, there are more translators and vice versa. The more translators for the language combination you desire the more likely it is cheaper. The less translators the more likely the price is higher. For example, English and Spanish are languages which are on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Then take languages such as Irish and Icelandic where translators are limited makes them expensive. Know which languages you are translating from and into. The language combination will reveal an accurate price range.

What Are Ways to Reduce Translation Cost?

Use a CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tool

CAT tools can utilize TM (Translation Memory) to save costs by reusing translated content from previous projects. If there is no TM, then aligning previous documents to create a TM is another option. Alignment will cost extra but reusing translation could in result decrease the overall translation cost, saving more in total. Reuse generally unifies content by increasing consistency in result raises quality. Quality contributes to lower cost in the long term because you can avoid mistakes which lead to costly corrections later.


Good project management saves. Planning your projects ahead of time from translation to release anticipating all steps in between from DTP (Desk Top Publishing) to web integration contributes to lower cost. Detailed planning reduces anxiety and provides stability for sudden mishaps giving you the ability to maneuver during a crisis. Anything rushed or last-minute changes makes quality suffer and increases the cost in result having to make additional corrections. Plan as best as possible and prepare a margin in case you run into problems. Better scheduling results in lower cost.

Analyzing Source Text Quality

At times the source text quality is poor. This results in a bad translation. The translation takes significantly longer because of guesswork by the translator confused by the source material attempting to craft an adequate translation. If it is an option, it is good to check and correct the source text before translation. This clarifies any problems beforehand and increases quality on both ends. This saves time from making many corrections after translation when the core problem was the source text. You want to avoid wasting valuable time and resources. If there is an opportunity, fix the source text to create a quality translation. This will benefit on quality and cost in the long term.

Simply Ask for a Discount

This tactic though should ideally benefit both parties. For example, if the project has large volume, then you may be able to ask for a volume discount if the language combination and subject area is relatively common. The more specialized and complex a project becomes a discount is harder to achieve. Also, if there is a long-term project over the course of months/years then deciding on a given price maybe viable considering the factors mentioned above. In any case, it is best when there is a win-win situation where both parties are happy to make the price agreement.

MTPE (Machine Translation Post Editing)

MTPE (machine translation post-editing) is a way to reduce cost. Different from traditional human translation, MTPE translates the source text with MT first. Then a human translator edits the machine translated text. The speed is relatively faster, and cost is lower. It is a convenient method, but quality comes into question. If the MT quality is poor this method becomes meaningless. It would simply take longer to translate adding more time and cost. The appropriate languages need to be considered when using MT. If a language is exotic, it is most likely the MT quality is poor. MTPE is beneficial by lowering costs upfront which seems practical, but quality may suffer leading to more cost. MTPE comes down to what you will accept with price vs. quality.

How Can I Get an Estimate?

Don’t hesitate to ask questions. The translator or LSP (Language Service Provider) should be able to provide the proper reasoning for their prices. Also remember the more information you provide about your translation project like volume, subject area, delivery term, language combination, file format, and providing a copy of the document, it becomes easier for the translator or LSP to give you an accurate translation estimate. Avoid added cost surprises after the project is finished. Know what you are getting into and receive what is expected. Learn not all translation projects are created equal. If the price is too cheap or too expensive ask further questions and research. Get familiar with the translation market. Do this and you will make educated price decisions on your next translation project.

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