How Do Translators Normally Charge for Services?
Although many professionals charge for their services by the hour or for a simple flat rate, translators normally charge a flat rate per source language word for a given language pair and complexity. That may seem like a lot of jargon, so let me explain what we mean by “source language word,” “language pair,” and “complexity.”
In translation, documents start in the source language and are translated into the target language. For example, if I receive a letter written in Spanish with a request to translate into English, Spanish is the source language and English is the target language. But why use the word count of the source language instead of the target language? Since no two translators will translate a document exactly the same way, it’s simpler for everyone to use the source language, and translators avoid the temptation to be too wordy in the target language.
Next, a language pair is the two languages which are being translated. Rates for language pairs vary wildly due to different supply and demand. For example, I know an Amharic<>English interpreter (note translator) who charges $100/hr. Amharic is often in demand at schools and hospitals, but few Amharic speakers are trained interpreters. On the other hand, Spanish<>English is a much more economical language pair. Federal courts in the United States, for example, currently pay between $0.06 and $0.20 per source language word for Spanish<>English translations (these rates are determined under the Criminal Justice Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3006).
Lastly, the complexity or register of a translation can have a large effect on pricing. Simple, routine translations are often quicker and easier than complex, technical documents. With legal translation in the United States and Central America specifically; motions, briefs, and affidavits can be quite complex. These translations will tend more towards $0.20 per word whereas a birth certificate would average closer to $0.06 per source language word.
Do you have any questions about proper pricing for a translation request? Feel free to contact me.