Why does translation cost so much?

Why does the price of translation vary?

The translation industry is international by its very nature. That’s why professional translation costs can vary so much across the world. Different countries might have different ways of calculating these prices: you could be charged anything from 50p per average line of 55 characters to 25p per word.

If this seems a bit daunting, keep in mind that the industry standard is to calculate the basic cost from the word count of the original text. The price also depends on the experience of the translator, whether the text is technical or specialised, and on the language combination. For example, an English-to-Chinese translator will probably charge less than an English-to-Norwegian translator, due to the cost of living in the respective countries. Furthermore, if you’re translating into or out of languages like English, Chinese, French, German or Spanish, it’s likely that you’ll be paying a bit less due to the ample supply of translators who work between these languages.

If you’re using a language that is not as widely spoken, it’s likely to be a little more expensive as the translation rates won’t have to be as competitive.

Why does it cost so much?

  • Translation is a service performed by university-educated professionals
    Translation is complicated process, and in many countries, translators need a postgraduate degree in Translation Studies. Studying to become a translator can take up to 5 years, and even then, continuing professional development and specialisation research means that this studying is an ongoing process.
  • Four eyes are better than two
    In order to be sure that your translation meets your requirements – both linguistically and in terms of its intended use – it should be checked by a second linguist or subject matter expert. This is the only way to guarantee quality, so check that it’s a service provided within the price when negotiating with your translation provider.
  • Without technology, you won’t get very far
    Digitalisation has not passed the translation industry by. Specialised translation software is a must-have for many agencies and freelancers. Software licences are not simply a one-time purchase – they need to be renewed regularly.
  • An established network of professionals
    Good language service providers spend a lot of time sourcing the very best copywriters, translators and proofreaders in the world. The LSP then works to ensure that these linguists quickly gain an in-depth understanding of the customer’s sector and makes sure that their skills are always used to achieve the best possible result for the customer. By doing so, translation agencies deliver consistently high-quality translations in any number of languages, even when an individual translator might be on holiday.

1 agency = 80+ languages = 1000+ experts

What else you pay for besides translation

Translation is just one of the many services your translation agency provides. What you might not see at first glance, but are paying for, is the know-how and the professionalism of everyone involved as well as the easy scalability of the services you require. You now need translation into 11 languages instead of 5? No problem. Your agency has the right people. Need to import the translated texts into your product database in a specific format? Your agency will have a technical solution for you. Do you want your technical terms, proper names and industry-specific terminology to be translated the same way each time? Your agency will create dedicated term bases specially for your projects.

How can I reduce translations costs?

So you’ve come this far, which means you now know why professional translation service providers charge what they do, and the extra value for money that this includes. But what if that’s still out of budget? Here are a few tips to lower your translation bill:

  • Group smaller texts together
    Although the price is usually calculated based on the word count, many translation providers will have a minimum charge (usually on translations of around 250 words or less). This is to cover the administrative fees incurred for any project, whatever the size. If you combine these smaller projects, you can avoid this minimum charge and save money overall.
  • High-volume translation projects could earn you a discount.
    This isn’t the case with all projects and providers, but if you have a large volume of work that needs to be translated, check with your language service provider whether the work you’re placing is suitable for any sort of discount.
  • Use translation memory.
    This is another reason why you should stay loyal to your language service provider if you are happy with them. Using translation memory means that every time a project of yours is translated, these translations are stored. Should a phrase, or a similar phrase, appear again in future projects, the translation is retrieved from the last time and you won’t have to pay to translate it twice.
  • Ask about machine translation post-editing.
    Check with your provider whether they think that your project would be suitable for machine translation post-editing. This is when machine translation software is used, and an expert post-editor will check it for any mistakes and readability. It’s not suitable for every type of text, but it can save you time and money!
  • Plan ahead.
    Placing a job with a very short deadline could limit your choice of translation provider. You won’t have time to do as much research, which means less comparison of quotes and reviews. This could mean that you end up paying over the odds without realising or having to place the job with someone else and paying for it twice, after the first provider you worked with proved to be unsuitable. If you’re unsure whether a certain provider is right for you, certification to ISO standards is a good indicator of professional quality.


Knowing what to pay for translation services can be tricky. Nobody wants to pay more than they have to, but sometimes buying cheap can mean buying twice. Your trusted translation agency could soon become like an external department, who truly understands your company and speaks your language(s), so it’s important to choose the right one. And in many cases, the people at the translation agency will start to feel more like colleagues who are always there for you in your time of need. So you’re really paying for all of this, not just translation. And it’s worth the money because subpar translations can cause a lot of damage.