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Campaign For Fair Translation Pricing

Jun 8, 2008
Welcome to this short article. In it we cover three areas of our industry which can cause confusion and lead to customers paying over the odds for translation services.

We share tips on what to look out for and present countermeasures you can deploy to protect yourself against costly mistakes.

"Campaign for Fair Translation Pricing" is a new initiative which we hope will help promote fairness and transparency across the industry.

It is not intended to be a sales pitch. Armed with this information, you will be in great shape to get the best deal, whichever company you choose.


Translation agencies are businesses and therefore there's always the temptation to cut costs to inflate the bottom line.

Unlike almost any other product you buy, you are often not in a position to judge the quality of what you are paying for.

Think about it; even if you are no expert, it's quite obvious that, say, a cheap flat-pack table is inferior in quality to one lovingly made by a master craftsman because you can see, feel and hence appreciate the difference.

By contrast, if you paid to have a page of English text translated into Mandarin Chinese, could you tell if it had been translated by an expert translator with 25 years experience or his 10 year old daughter? Most people would reluctantly have to answer 'no' - agencies know this.

Cheap translators are cheap for a reason. They are often based overseas, are unqualified, do not understand the subject matter of the documents they are translating and, critically, are not translating into their mother tongue.

I can't stress highly enough the importance of using mother tongue translators. If there is one thing above all others which will help ensure you get a good quality translation it's ensuring you use a mother tongue translator.


To help make sure you receive work of the standard you are being charged for, ask your translation agency if your translation is being carried out by a translator who:

a) Is translating into their mother tongue - accept no excuses. Some translators claim 'mastery' of a second language but, with the exception of very rare truly bilingual individuals, translators work best translating into their mother tongue.

b) Has translation qualifications to at least degree level. Simply having a second language does not make you a translator.

I have a carving knife; it does not make me a surgeon. Ours is an unregulated industry and anyone can claim to be a translator and undertake work as such.

c) Is a member of an appropriate professional body (Institute of Translators and Interpreters in the UK, in-country equivalents overseas). If they are serious about their career as a translator as opposed to just odd-jobbing for pocket money, require them to demonstrate it through membership or go elsewhere.

d) Has several years relevant commercial translating experience. Don't pay top dollar for an inexperienced recent graduate. Practice makes perfect and there is no substitute.

e) Has subject matter expertise. If they don't understand the text, they won't produce a good translation no matter how good their translation skills.


To 'nickel & dime' someone is an Americanism used to describe a sales tactic which entails adding many small additional charges to increase the final price far beyond original expectations.

Anyone who has purchased a new car will instantly recognise this strategy which accounts for the vast difference between the showroom price and the price on the road. Numbers plates? "They're extra Sir/Madam" Air conditioning? "That's extra Sir/Madam" Radio? "Extra." etcetera.

Our industry just loves to 'nickel & dime', it's a great way of getting more money out of you. Proof-reading? "Extra" Delivery by Monday morning? "Extra" Hard copy? "Extra" The list goes on.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that extra charges should not be levied (indeed sometimes there is no choice), but there are two crucial points:

POINT 1: Extras should be fair, transparent and not used to bolster unrealistically low headline rates in order to win business on price.

POINT 2: You should be told about any extras BEFORE the work is commissioned and not afterwards when it is too late.


Request a detailed breakdown of the costs before you place the order. If you do not understand a line item, ask for clarification. The following will help you avoid the most common 'nickel & dime' tactics.

a) Most translation agencies charge on a 'per word' or 'per thousand words' basis. If they give you a fixed cost for the entire job, ask them what this equates to in terms of cost per word and use it as a benchmark for comparing prices.

b) Be wary of agencies that quote unrealistically low rates and add excessive extra charges for hard copies, proofreading and typesetting. These charges can be used to disguise the true final cost.

c) Be wary of hourly rates which are not quoted with corresponding estimated timescales as some activities such as proofreading and transcription can take much longer than you might imagine.


Check whether your agency proposes to charge you by the number of words in the original document you ask them to translate or the number of words in the finished translation. If they say the latter, beware.

Charging by the number of words in the finished translation (target document) as opposed to the number of words in the document you submit for translation (source document) is one of the biggest scams in the business. Here's why.

When a document is translated, the number of words in the finished document usually differs compared with the number of words in the original. Depending upon the language pair, the difference can be surprisingly large - up to 30%

This means that if your agency has quoted you a price based on the number of words in the finished translation your final bill could be 30% more than you were expecting.

We strongly disagree with charging on target rather than source as it gives unscrupulous translation companies licence to produce sloppy and long winded text just to inflate their invoice.

Think back to your school days. When you were told to write an essay which was, say, 5 pages long and you'd run out of ideas by page 3 what did you do? If you were like me, you just padded things out, right?

Accuracy is the hallmark of a good translation, not volume. Why give your translation company an incentive to waffle on at your expense?


Simply ask the translation agency to quote on the number of words in the document you provide to them, NOT on the number of words in the resulting translation.

When comparing quotes between companies, ensure all the quotes are based on the number of words in the source document and not the target document.
These precautions will ensure price comparisons are fair and the costs are clear before you commission the work.
About the Author
Peter Bennett is founder and CEO of London translations Limited, one of London's fastest growing business translation and interpreting agencies.
Download a free copy of his buyers guide Campaign For Fair Translation Pricing:
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