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Translation: What does it cost?

What level of quality is required?

Before answering the question of how much translation costs, one first has to ask the question "What level of quality is required?" This will determine the category of service that will be required. If a translation is required only for informational purposes, automatic translation may be suitable. On the other hand, translation of material in which the presence of errors would have dire consequences must be done by trained professionals. There are varying quality needs, and service types suitable for meeting those needs, in between.

Automatic translation is available for free in many languages

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other companies offer rapid automatic translation in a host of languages at no cost. For translations being performed for informational purposes, these solutions may be adequate (although caution is required).

There are also companies that specialize in building custom machine translation solutions, optimized for a given set of material. These solutions, which carry a fee but tend to be less expensive than human translation, may be appropriate, especially when translation of very large volumes of texts is needed (and again, there is room for error).

Human translation of indeterminate quality can be found at relatively low cost

There is a class of people who offer translation services (often on a part-time basis), without offering guarantees or assurances concerning the quality of their work. Rates charged for this category of service vary significantly, from 20 cents or more down to as low as 1 cent per word. Established businesses and organizations may even find fans or enthusiasts willing to contribute translations for free. In cases where machine translation is not suitable but there is still ample room for error, working with this class of individuals may be an option.

High-quality translation has a certain cost associated with it

When it is important that a translation read well and be free of errors because it is intended for publication, use with customers, etc., it is necessary to work with full-time professional translators. To understand the rates charged by this class of translators, it is useful to understand what is involved in their work.

To produce top-level work, a translator must not only be bilingual, he or she must also be a subject matter expert and a good writer. The number of people who have this combination of skills is limited. What is more, skill alone is not enough; most projects require some amount of research, and at a minimum, a careful word-by-word check for accuracy. A certain amount of time must be spent to ensure quality in any given project.

For these reasons, high-quality translation has a certain cost associated with it. Budget less than that rate as a translation buyer, and you put yourself in a position where it is unlikely that you will receive high-quality work on an ongoing basis.

Information on the rates charged by professional translators can be accessed by clicking on the "Data on rates" tab above.

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