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Do you charge per source or per target word?
Thread poster: Thomas Rebotier

Thomas Rebotier  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:55
English to French
May 25, 2010

I work for an agency both as one of their preferred freelancers and part-time in house to organize operation and help with IT and machine translation. We used to quote with a target word estimate, charge per target word and pay per target word (which for me also involves being paid, as a translator). But following feedback from one of our client and inquiries at ACT, our general manager has decided to move the entire business to invoicing on the source word count.

I wonder what is the current industry practice, whether it is changing, and how it depends on the country you live in and the language pair you work in. FYI the proZ profile doesn't say in the per word rates whether they are target or source words...

So, Do you charge per source word or per target word? Can you in your reply indicate your country, language pair, and also report what you have heard from colleagues, and whether the way you charge has changed in the recent past?

Thank you!

me: ENG > FRA, until now by target word, but it looks like i have to change!


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:55
French to English
+ ...
By source more common I think May 25, 2010

In my experience, charging by source word is the normal case unless for some reason it's not practical to do so.

For end clients, I think charging by source word makes sense because you can then give them a concrete price based on text that they have control of. Otherwise, charging by target word, you're effectively saying: "I'm going to charge you X per word, but I don't know how many words there'll be yet so I can't give you the final price, and what's more I have control over how many words there will be, not you".

Of course, there are exceptions when charging by target word could make more sense overall. If you have a scanned document and don't have a precise word count, a target word count is available immediately once you've finished the job, whereas the word count from the scanned document takes effort to estimate (though in honesty, I still tend to go on source word estimate even in such cases). Another scenario might be translating, say, from Chinese into English for an English client, maybe your client has more grasp of what a "word" is in English than what a character represents in Chinese and thus the pricing is easier for them to understand.

That said, different things are logical to different people. In Mexico, for example, people are more used to thinking in pages (so e.g. a student might be asked to produce a 5-page essay, whereas a British student would be asked to produc, say, a 2,000-word essay), and this has filtered down into translation. So in such countries I'm often asked for a price per page, with people apparently totally confused at the idea that different pages may contain different numbers of words or that, on average, a page with more words on may require more effort to translate than one with fewer words...


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Tatiana Lammers  Identity Verified
United States
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
per source word May 25, 2010

English > Russian
I live in the USA


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imatahan  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:55
English to Portuguese
+ ...
per May 26, 2010

source word

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:55
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Source! May 26, 2010

It is a lot healthier to charge per source word: charging per target word always creates the possibility --and the fear on the side of the client-- to write more words intentionally and make the translation excessively verbose and unpleasant. If I were a customer, I would never pay per target word!

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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:55
French to German
+ ...
Disagreeing... May 26, 2010

Neil Coffey wrote:

For end clients, I think charging by source word makes sense because you can then give them a concrete price based on text that they have control of. Otherwise, charging by target word, you're effectively saying: "I'm going to charge you X per word, but I don't know how many words there'll be yet so I can't give you the final price, and what's more I have control over how many words there will be, not you".


It does not have to be that way. If you tell your client that the target will be about X% more than the source and that you will charge them according to the actual word-count, limited to (source + X%), your control over how many words will be charged is limited.

The rather simple truth IMO is that many translators/agencies advertise that they will charge per source word and that it will be cheaper for the end client.

ETA / PS @ Neil & Tomás: do not get me wrong - in a recent FR>DE translation, my final TT word-count was some 10% lower than the ST one. I do not see any problem in charging the client in the TT word-count in such cases either.

So much for verbosity.

Furthermore, my personal preference is to charge per keystrokes, which is the smallest unit I can think about.


@ all: curiously enough, counting methods are mostly decided/implemented by those who do everything but the actual work. Think about it.

So much for being independent contractors.

[Edited at 2010-05-26 05:30 GMT]


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Annett Hieber  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:55
English to German
Source words May 26, 2010

Most agencies I work for charge per source word - that's okay for me. It is more fair in my opinion for both sides.

However, these are some interesting arguments from Laurent.

Have a nice day!

Annett


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:55
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
I am biased today May 26, 2010

Laurent KRAULAND wrote:
So much for verbosity.

Maybe I am a bit biased today as I have just completed a proofreading of an awfully verbose translation. In this job, I must really wonder whether A) the translator just enjoys typing and forces grammar to the limit to write a ton of unnecessary words or B) he was paid by target word.

Laurent KRAULAND wrote:
@ all: curiously enough, counting methods are mostly decided/implemented by those who do everything but the actual work. Think about it.
So much for being independent contractors.

Indeed...


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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:55
French to German
+ ...
Attorneys and engineers May 26, 2010

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Laurent KRAULAND wrote:
So much for verbosity.

Maybe I am a bit biased today as I have just completed a proofreading of an awfully verbose translation. In this job, I must really wonder whether A) the translator just enjoys typing and forces grammar to the limit to write a ton of unnecessary words or B) he was paid by target word.


Hmmm, let me see: I am quite sure that attorneys at law or patent engineers are not paid by the word either. But you are not writing about a legal or a patent translation, are you?

[Edited at 2010-05-26 06:08 GMT]


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svenfrade  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:55
French to German
+ ...
Per source word May 26, 2010

IMHO this is the best way to provide transparency. I always quote per source word, so clients know what they will pay in the end. As far as I am concerned, I would not buy a pig in the poke and charging per source word simply provides more transparency.

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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:55
Flemish to English
+ ...
Depending on language typology. May 26, 2010

By type of source/target language.
When you translate a French word into German, German (synthetic language)will mostly give you 1 word, whereas French will need three words to express the same (analytic language).

As an agency, you should tell your boss to make a matrix based on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_language

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isolating_language#Analytic_languages

If you translate from say Hungarian and Finnish (Finno-Ugric language) into French, I am pretty sure, you will get an entire sentence whereas in those languages, you will use one word.



[Edited at 2010-05-26 06:27 GMT]


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seraalice  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 19:55
Member (2007)
English to Czech
+ ...
both per source and target word May 26, 2010

I usually ask the client how to charge. To be honest I am a bit surprised by so many answers for "per source word" since in my case, it is mostly "per target word".

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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:55
Italian to English
+ ...
In Italy... May 26, 2010

... The standard is generally per target page, where a page for technical translations is normally considered to be 1500 keystrokes including spaces. In literary translations, the page is normally 2000 keystrokes, but I don't know whether in this case it's more common to use source or target count.

However, I have seen hints that this might be changing, with more Italian agencies in recent years asking me to quote a rate per word (normally leaving it up to me to specify source or target). No idea if this is a real trend or not.


Edits: to answer the question, I charge in whatever way the client prefers, adjusting my rate accordingly. If the client doesn't specify, I now tend to quote/charge per source word for editable files and per target word for scanned PDFs, TIFs, etc.

[Edited at 2010-05-26 06:33 GMT]


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 20:55
Turkish to English
+ ...
The customer is always right May 26, 2010

I will quote in any currency and on any basis (e.g. source word, target word, line, set fee for the whole job) that the customer wishes. However, I wish that the translation world would take stock of the fact that the difference between source and target word count makes a huge difference in some language pairs. Word count expansion in the order of 55% is normal in the Turkish to English pair, for example, so it is vital that both parties are clear from the outset as to which of these payment is based on.

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Emma Goldsmith  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:55
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
eu quality standard May 26, 2010

I understand that in order for an agency to be certified under EN-15038:2006
http://qualitystandard.bs.en-15038.com/
they have to charge per source word.

Please correct me anyone if this isn't the case. I'm am going on one agency I work for in Spain (Sp>Eng in my case) which had to change from charging per target word to charging per source word when they applied to be certified under this standard.

In the case of Sp>Eng I think many agencies used to charge per target word because it works out 10% cheaper in that language pair. However, several people I work for have changed to source word in the last few years.


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