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A question for those charging per target word
Thread poster: Samuel Murray

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:01
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Sep 7, 2008

G'day everyone

I have a question for translators who charge not by source word count but by target word count (even if an accurate source text word count is available and the source text is in electronic format). The question is... why?

Do you expect clients and/or agencies to have an unlimited budget that will naturally be sufficient for the translation when the invoice arrives? Do you think it is unfair towards the translator if the client is able to determine beforehand what the translation will cost him?

What is the reason why you charge per target word count? Do you think it is normal to do that? Do you think it should be the standard way of charging in our industry?

When you say your rate to a new client, do you remind him that the rate is for target word count, or do you expect him to know that it would be for the target word count?

If a client says "we have a text of roughly 1000 words, and we offer XYZ per word", do you still assume the client means target word count, or does it occur to you that the client may have had the source word count in mind?

As someone who had recently outsourced a translation, I look forward to your replies.

Thanks!
Samuel


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Gillian Searl  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:01
Member (2004)
German to English
tradition Sep 7, 2008

Hi Samuel,
In German-speaking companies it's the way it's always been done and so that's the way they do it. Some customers in those countries have realised the disadvantages and have changed their system but change is slow in people's minds.
Gillian


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
But not just tradition Sep 7, 2008

As a translator of German to English like Gillian (hi Gillian!), I've also found that the "norm" is usually to quote/arrange pricing by target, although more often by target line than by target word.

Maybe this wouldn't make as much sense to other language pairs, but I've always found there to be a certain logic to this for German->English.

For one thing, in my experience, the target text is often anywhere from 1.15 - 1.35 x the amount of words that are in the original text. Not only is this a large range, it's also a large increase.

Based on my experience, I believe that in this particular language pair, this is a result of 2 main factors:

1) German grammatical structures and "word inventions", where one word in German has to be expressed in 2 or more words in English
2) Legal, financial, or other similar terminology that doesn't exist in one-to-one correlation in English and likewise has to be expressed in several more words (and also requires a lot of research) in English

Basically, the translator has less of an idea of what s/he's getting into just based on the source word count alone.

My personal preference, however, is the target line count (55 or 50 characters including spaces). I find that the line counts in German and English are actually much more similar to each other than the word counts (line counts seem to differ by 0-10%, sometimes in the client's favor), and are thus fairer for providing just the "transparency" you seem to be referencing. And I can't recall any time I've seen a line count differ by more than 30%!

When I'm asked to quote based on source count, I get the niggling feeling that this just isn't fair to me, because I'm not sure what's really in store. I end up doing all types of contorted calculations based on possible end results, and usually end up increasing my price to compensate for the large potential (20-30%) difference, which not all clients understand without a complex description such as this one, and even then are often loathe to accept.

On the other hand, I think most of those clients working in this pair for a while understand precisely the reasoning behind this - I could be wrong, but they certainly don't seem to have as much of a problem as those asking for source quotes have with the "equivalent" price quoted.

Maybe it comes down to experience?

[Edited at 2008-09-07 06:46]


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:01
Spanish to English
+ ...
Two reasons Sep 7, 2008

In some language pairs, it's the most logical solution. For example, when translating between English and a language with a tendency towards long compound words, people often bill by the English word count, regardless of whether it's the source or target language. It's a better gauge of the labor involved.

In my pairs, I generally charge by source word, unless the source document is on paper or is a scan/fax that cannot easily be processed through OCR. In those cases, I charge by target word, and the fee is adjusted upward slightly to compensate for the fact that English is more concise than Romance languages.

When a client quotes a rate, I pretty much ignore it and inform them of my fee, always specifying whether I'm referring to source or target word counts.

[Edited at 2008-09-07 06:54]


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:01
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Greater precision Sep 7, 2008

I have preferred charging by the target word count ever since I started freelancing in 1965. Over most of the years since then, I was getting work on paper, so source word counts were only the customer's rough (sometimes very rough!) estimates, whereas target word counts were my own & I could rely on them. When I started using a computer (1991), it was possible to get more accurate target word counts, but not source ones. I didn't start getting any work in the form of computer files (that's in Russian) until about four years ago. Some of these are in Word but most are pdf files, which are not easy to count. There is a considerable difference in word count between Russian and English. I find that Russian word count is a little over 70% of the English.
My long-standing customers still accept target word counts, but newer ones often don't, & I will offer them a source count rate (but at a higher rate, for reasons explained above) if they want it.
Of course I always make it clear that I prefer target word count, but I will always accept source word count or an agreed price if that's what the customer wants.


[Edited at 2008-09-07 07:39]


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:01
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
German into English has to be either target words or lines Sep 7, 2008

Hi Samuel,

In German into English, if WORDS are counted at all it has to be the target word count, otherwise DE-EN translators (full-time ones at least) would rapidly go out of business. There are up to 35% more words in English than in German. It is not just a case of wanting to be paid for the higher number of words in order to be paid more. Given that German words are often compounds which substitute a whole phrase in English - and often it takes ages to get the right English phrase to match the "word" - especially since these word combinations are often not standard, but made up by the author to suit the occasion - it is necessary to be paid for the English words involved in order to be adequately compensated for the time.

Since, also in this language pair, both end clients and agencies often like to know in advance what the translation will cost, there is a standard solution in Germany of charging by the line - an agreed line being somewhere between 50 and 60 characters with spaces, but most often 55. This is then applied to the source text. The translator can then calculate the time required for the translation, offer a line rate which will amount to the remuneration required, the client knows what it will cost, and everybody is happy.

In case you ask why it is not possible to calculate the time required and offer a source word rate, in the same way as a line rate, that is because of the unpredictability of the word length. It is easier to work out lines.

As Steven says, otherwise the English word is of a fairly reliable average size, and therefore practical to use as a basis for charging.

Have a good day!

Astrid


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 02:01
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Not true Sep 7, 2008

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:
In German into English, if WORDS are counted at all it has to be the target word count, otherwise DE-EN translators (full-time ones at least) would rapidly go out of business.


With rare exceptions, if I am doing word counts, I do source word counts in German, but I make a careful comparison to ensure that the counts are not particularly skewed. In reality the ratio of source words to lines (target or source) for a given type of material is fairly constant. If anyone doubts this, I encourage you to download the comparison spreadsheet from the "How To" tab on my profile, put in your own data (replace the dummy data I put in just as an example) and see how the numbers come out. The relative standard deviations are quite small, just a few percent. This means that as long as you are scaling your prices to reflect the average ratios you are in no danger whatsoever of going broke on a job.


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
Limitations Sep 7, 2008

Kevin Lossner wrote:
...but I make a careful comparison to ensure that the counts are not particularly skewed.


Aha, there's the rub. How much time can we really afford to constantly be doing these calculations and comparisons? It's already a problem just to say "I can do this" when looking at, for example, a copy of a 30-page due diligence report when you're in the middle of three other "urgent" jobs, and then later discover that 20% of the text has to do with technical logging and woodcutting specifications (yes, experience), but it's another burden on top of that to then try to assess the text for how many "compounds" there are and whether translations for these already exist in the accepted German-English terminology resources or whether the translator will be looking at a lot of "creative thinking" to implement these.

...In reality the ratio of source words to lines (target or source) for a given type of material is fairly constant


Hmm, not sure I agree with that. Maybe because I don't constantly review what variances go with which of my specializations, but as I stated above (delayed due to moderator filtering), my target word count can be anywhere from 1.15 - 1.35 on the plus side - maybe it's just me, but that appears to be quite a spread.

Of course (as also implied above), when forced on the issue, I will quote towards the high end of the scale. If that's how they want their pricing, so be it. But it doesn't mean I agree that it's the best way.


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Noe Tessmann  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:01
English to German
+ ...
20 % off? Sep 7, 2008

Hello,


first of all, it's not always me who decides. When the client wants source text, he gets it.
But it's not the same measure. A translation from English into German means 20 % more volume in the target text. Counting the source text would mean a higher rate.

Basically clients accept easier 0,99 per line target text than 15 cents per word source text, allthough it can be same.

Regards

Noe


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 04:01
Turkish to English
+ ...
There are good reasons in certain pairs Sep 7, 2008

When translating from Turkish into English, I have experienced expansions of anything ranging from 20% to 100% in the word count. Turkish is an agglutinating languge which adds chains of suffixes to words, and each suffix can correspond to a separate word in English : e.g. masa "table" masam "my table" masamda "on my table" masamdaki "the one which is on my table". There is no clear rule for predicting how much expansion there is going to be, although I have concluded that 55% is the average, albeit with a wide margin of error. Quite frankly, I feel that the target word count accurately reflects the amount of effort I have put into producing a text, and that is why, if I am required to charge on a word count basis, I prefer to do so based on the target count.

Actually, I much prefer character-based methods of charging. It is beyond my comprehension as to why, in word count terms, the sentence "My dog was killed" (4 words - 17 characters including spaces) is considered to have twice the value of its Turkish translation "Köpeğim öldürüldü" (2 words - 17 characters including spaces). The character count is the fairest way of charging in this language pair, where word counts vary greatly but the number of characters remains far more constant. Translation agencies in Turkey most commonly charge per 1000 characters. This seems to me to be a blunt instrument in that you pay double for a text of 1001 characters what you would for one of 999 characters. The fairest measure that I have ever encountered is the German standard line of 55 characters, and, from my own perspective, I wish this would be adopted as the industry standard.

My real preference is to inspect the text as a whole and give a fixed, binding quote for performing the complete task. Why do translators insist on commoditising our work, anyhow?


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:01
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Same in Russian with knobs on Sep 7, 2008

In addition to the factors mentioned by translators working between English and German, which also apply to Russian (though the number of "portmanteau words" is not quite so great), Russian has no definite or indefinite articles. The use of case endings in place of prepositions is greater in Russian than German - there are more cases.
I only recently got to know the German system of counting by the line (55 characters inc. spaces = one line, I think), but I find that though the word count is so different between English and Russian, there is very little difference in the character count. So if that system became more widely used, I could offer the same rate either way.


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:01
French to English
+ ...
Target or line count for German - but what about Powerpoint? Sep 7, 2008

I agree that for German target count or a line count is the only answer. As others have said, there can be a huge variation between source and target line count and that can often depend on the nature of the text. A straightforward non-technical letter may only be 15% different, whereas technical or legal texts with huge long compound nouns can be 30% more in English than in the German. I therefore charge on the basis of line count for most of my foreign agencies but for UK clients I use target word count as I always have done from the days when source word counts weren't available, as Jack says. I have been asked whether I can charge on the basis of source words, but, strangely enough, when I say that I can but that my rate will increase accordingly, most people seem happy to stick with the target count!

One area I do have problems with is line count for Powerpoint files - does anyone have a solution for counting lines in these? I tend to obtain the word count from Statistics, work out an average word-line conversion and do it that way, but I wonder if there's a more accurate method?


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:01
German to English
+ ...
A question for those charging per target word Sep 7, 2008

Samuel Murray wrote:

The question is... why?


Convention (here in Germany), at least in the sense that the target text is counted (but keystrokes, not words).

Do you expect clients and/or agencies to have an unlimited budget that will naturally be sufficient for the translation when the invoice arrives?


Where does the "unlimited" come into it? It's possible, in theory, to make the translation more expensive by being more verbose, but in comparison to other professions and their charging arrangements, particularly those where work is charged for by the hour, the scope for doing this is extremely limited. How many of those reading this have challenged their lawyers, web designers or auto repair shops over how much time was spent actually doing work that was charged per hour?

Do you think it is unfair towards the translator if the client is able to determine beforehand what the translation will cost him?


If by "determine", you mean "know", then no, of course it's not unfair. Any customer is at liberty to request a fixed quote, and any freelance translator is at liberty to provide one or to refuse to provide one, in which case the customer can go elsewhere. I charge by the target line, but will give a fixed quote if requested to do so. In fact, I invariably insist on charging for revision by volume, whereas I suspect that many of those who argue against target-volume charging because of the (small) uncertainty actually charge by the hour for revision.

What is the reason why you charge per target word count?


Convention (here in Germany, target keystrokes). The convention dates back to the time when it was more practical to do so.

Do you think it is normal to do that?


It is normal in Germany.

Do you think it should be the standard way of charging in our industry?


Do we have to have a "standard" way of charging? Should we persuade the Americans to adopt the metric system? Should they persuade the rest of us to speak English exclusively? If and when they do, your word count problem will have resolved itself.

When you say your rate to a new client, do you remind him that the rate is for target word count


In the relevant context, yes, of course.

If a client says "we have a text of roughly 1000 words, and we offer XYZ per word", do you still assume the client means target word count, or does it occur to you that the client may have had the source word count in mind?


Since I don't routinely use any word-based convention, I don't make any assumptions.

Marc


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Alex Farrell  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 11:01
Japanese to English
Character counts Sep 7, 2008

From Japanese to English, we usually count the number of characters in the source text, as there are no spaces between words in this language. But I've used the target word count when the source is a PDF scan where an automated word count isn't possible.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:01
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Duplicate post Sep 7, 2008

Duplicate post

[Edited at 2008-09-07 13:08]


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