How much should a translator earn? The more the better, of course, but what are the factors that affect these translation rates? This article will explore some of them.
In order for someone to stay in the market and effectively provide translation services, this activity should be lucrative enough to cover the individual’s cost of living, as a minimum. Thus, the individual cost of living determines the minimum translation rates. So far, it would be simple enough, as you’d just estimate your living wage and your monthly capacity, and there you go, you have a formula that determines your minimum rate. Of course, one should also consider taxes and social contributions, holidays and so on, but this is all solved by the ProZ calculator here.
However, this approach fails to consider the cost of living, and with this, the minimum translator’s rates vary from region to region, even from country to country. Given that the translation industry is a very global endeavor, i.e. translation agencies may be set up in any country, and these agencies may be providing services in any language combination, topped up with the fact that spoken languages are not strictly associated with the cost-of-living regions, this issue is far more complicated than it seems. Agencies are very much aware of these differences, and will try to leverage them by finding the cheapest possible translators in the given language pair.
That said, “cheapest possible” is a delicate balance between price and quality each agency will strike individually. Some agencies will choose from translators coming from the cheapest-cost-of-living areas, without considering the fact that most of these translators translate from B to B, meaning that BOTH the source and the target language is their second one, and/or possibly using machine translation with poor post-editing. Other agencies will carefully select their translators and only choose the ones who are native speakers of the target language, with strict qualification requirements both translation- and specialization-wise. And of course, anything goes in between. To complicate matters even further, agencies’ minimum margins are also affected by the cost of living or average wages/rates, or the maximum amount they can charge their clients in the given country.
Of course, what companies charge is far not what they pay for their translators, yet common sense dictates that their fees and costs correlate. Let me just add my personal experience here: for the same language pair (EN-HU), Hungarian agencies pay me about 50 percent less than their UK- or Ireland-based counterparts. Whereas, a low-cost Hungarian agency charges only three cents/word for EN-HU translations, while the same translation would cost 13 cents if done by a US agency.
Translation Rates By Region
On average, Indian-based translators charge USD 0.04/source word for their translation services in the English into Hindi language pair (the average of 100 translators), with the minimum fees as low as USD 0.01/source word, which thirty of them actually claim they charge.
For the English – Arabic pair I pulled the stats for translators living in Egypt. Minimum rates were USD 0.01/word, however, an average of USD 0.05/word indicated that they are somewhat more expensive than their Indie counterparts.
German-based English-German translators charge USD 0.07/word on average, with the minimum of 0.01/word, yet only one of a hundred translators claimed this.
Another platform, says that for the German-English pair, the average rate in the US is USD 0.09, in Germany it’s 0.11, while Indian translators would get only 0.07/word for the same translation.
These differences, both in quality and price, give rise to fiery debates across the global translator community. First-world translators often reproach their less fortunate colleagues for keeping prices down with their cheap services and try to encourage them to ask more for their labor. However, one just can’t overwrite global inequalities or individual instincts to survive, so the differences are to stay with us.
This can be good or bad, but one thing’s for sure: just like agencies, translators also must strike that balance to make the most out of their expertise, wherever they live and whatever language pairs they are working in.