Which are the most important factors that determine translation rates?
The three most influential factors determining translation rates for any translation service are word count, the degree of difficulty and the envisaged deadline.
1. How the length of the text influences translation rates
Clients tend to think that a translator can give them a price on volume alone. Unfortunately, this is simply not possible.
The volume of a translation job (expressed in the number of words, characters, lines or pages – all strictly defined) is indeed the basis for all quotes given by translators. However, the quoted translation rate – the price per unit (be this words/characters/lines/pages) – depends on many variables.
The bottom line is that only ONE of these variables is the document’s volume.
What is more, should the volume be below a certain level, the translator will apply a minimum rate. While the cut-off line may vary from translator to translator, it is roughly based on one hour’s work. This reflects the fact that, however small a translation job, there is a minimum amount of time involved dealing with it. Therefore, translators must include their time for the many tasks associated with carrying out a translation. There is the time it takes to reply to emails, assessing the text, giving a quote, doing the translation, revising it, writing an invoice and sending it all off to the client.
However, the minimum rate is often negotiable for repeat customers or very small or simple translation jobs.
2. The complexity of formatting involved
Certified translations must be drawn up by hand and the formatting must be replicated as closely as possible, including all side bars, headers and footers. A certificate with complex tables will be much more time-consuming to draw up than a page with standard text.
3. The type of source document supplied
Overtyping a Word document is easy. Working on a PDF much less so. Some PDFs can quickly be converted to editable text or into a Word file, especially if the PDF was originally created from a Word file. However, if your PDF was created from a file generated in a design program or other complicated software, an OCR converter will provide you with an editable text that looks the same as your original document, but that has entirely different underlying formatting. Overtyping tis with words and sentences of different lengths than the original language results in text that can jump all over the page or disappear altogether. Stripping the text of its formatting and starting from scratch is time consuming. Sometimes, it’s even easier to draw it all up by hand. But while that may be easier, it is most certainly not quicker!
4. The impact of the degree of specialisation on translation rates
You, the client, may classify a text as simple because you deal with the subject every day. However, if you produce seating for aeroplanes, seat components are not the type of vocabulary that most translators will have at their fingertips. Therefore, they will tell you that the vocabulary is “specialised”. Or you sell materials for steam-operated printing presses produced in the 19th century. This is not a subject a lot of freelance translators will have come across. So expect a slightly higher quotation.
But why does it matter? The less commonly used the vocabulary of your particular document, the more vocabulary research work for the translator. To allow for the extra time needed, the translator will increase the translation rate per 1000 words or line of 55 characters including spaces (a commonly used method of calculating prices in Germany). This is due to the fact that it takes longer than usual to translate a text thoroughly when the language used is somewhat unfamiliar. Naturally, professional translators will not accept work that is completely outside their competence! But most texts require a certain level of terminology research.
Alternatively, it will cost you more to find a translator who specialises in this niche area.
5. How the envisaged deadline impacts on translation rates
A generous deadline
So, why it is good to allow as much time as possible for a translation? Because, first of all, the less pressed for time a translator is, the more willing they will be to offer a quotation with reasonable translation rates. Secondly, the less stressed the translator the less likely that mistakes creep in or the quality suffers in any other way.
Yes, if pressed, a translator can indeed translate a lot of words in a relatively short period. But we’ve all been there: a rushed job – no matter in what industry – is rarely a good job. Therefore, if you want a first-rate translation, don’t dictate to your translation service provider – whether they are a freelance translator or a translation agency – when you want the translation done by, unless there really is no choice. Asking your translator/project manager how long they think would be a reasonable time is the way to achieve the best possible result.
In contrast, when you ring a translation agency for a quote for a translation job, they tend to go by the book. Because they know that their in-house translators can translate, say, 2000 words within 24 hours, this is the deadline they’ll give you. If they don’t have in-house translators with the required language pair available at that time, they will ring around their list of freelance translators. In that case, half a day may have passed before the translator actually receives the job. What is more, the translator may have other urgent work to finish first. Inevitably, this (by now) very tight deadline will cause stress for the freelancer. Not the best working conditions for freelance translators.
This is one of the reasons why Iolante believes that optimum translation results are achievable when clients and freelance translators work together without intermediaries.
6. Pricing structure for certified translations in Germany
In Germany, prices paid by the courts for legal translations are regulated, and most translators apply these to private certified translations too. Statutory line rates can be found here. 1 line = 55 characters, at the time of writing (March 2023), statutory rates are €1.80 for editable text and €1.95 for non-editable text. In addition, there are charges for certifying documents and for postage.