What's a normal rate for transcription?
Thread poster: Sarah McDowell

Sarah McDowell  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 20:22
Member (2012)
Russian to English
+ ...
Nov 13, 2012

I would like to know what the standard rate is for transcription. Companies are asking me to send my rate for 1 minute of audio and I don't know what a typical rate is. I don't want to say anything too high or too low. How do you determine how much you charge for transcription?

Thanks,
Sarah


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 01:22
Chinese to English
Whatever works for you Nov 13, 2012

If you check the web, cheap transcription starts from as low as 1 USD per minute of audio. You'd have to be a very fast typist to make that a profitable line of work, though.

I'm an indifferent typist, and the best transcription speed I've ever been able to maintain is about 3 minutes per audio minute. So in an hour, I'd get 20 minutes done, so I'd need a minimum of 3 USD to make it worth my while.

With this sort of thing, I generally advise clients that they'd be better off getting the transcription done by a professional. I'm a translator, not a secretary. Best results are achieved by handing me a translation-ready document.


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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:22
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
Depends Nov 13, 2012

You should really try to get your hands on a sample to assess the audio quality. Various factors can make things more difficult, such as poor recording quality/background noise, the number of speakers, is it to be verbatim (i.e., every hem, hew, ahem, er, and similar utterance etc., included) or not. If you need to add time codes, this will take more time...
Are you supposed to simply transcribe, or to translate directly from the audio? If the latter, this is essentially 2 tasks, transcription and translation, and it is best to treat it as such, with time for transcription plus translation per word from the transcript.

As a translator, trying to be competitive with the rates advertised by transcription agencies is futile, and, by audio minute, it's just not possible to match them without ending up with effective hourly rate that is abysmally low. IME, transcription of an audio hour takes about 6 hours of my time. Of course, experienced transcriptionists can probably do much better.



[Edited at 2012-11-13 02:07 GMT]


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Sarah McDowell  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 20:22
Member (2012)
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Nov 13, 2012

Thank you both of you for your suggestions. I really appreciate it.

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David Christian  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 02:22
Japanese to English
Consider words per minute and then charge your normal rate Nov 13, 2012

Sarah,

Consider the average number of words spoken per minute for your source language. For Japanese, this is somewhere around 100-150. Then I charge my normal translation rate for the amount of words spoken, considering the context of the source material. If the transcription is about nuclear physics, I am probably going to charge the highest translation rate possible for each word spoken.

The absolute minimum I charge is 750 yen per spoken minute of audio (around $9), and I ALWAYS ask for a sample before accepting a job. I took one job some years back that was literally impossible to determine what was being said, and it took 10x longer than expected and was a huge loss for me, so getting some idea of the quality (or absolute garbage) you will be working with helps.

I don't break my back for transcription jobs anymore. These companies that tell you the going rate is $3 per minute are making an absolute killing by collecting nearly 80% of the profit for the work you do. The way I look at it is, I set my rate like any other translation job and if the agency/client doesn't like it, they are welcome to take the job to some other poor soul who will be screaming at their computer wondering why they took on so much work for pennies.

Good luck to you,

David Christian
Japanese to English, specializing in wildlife, fisheries, forestry, and agriculture
Tokyo


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:22
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Do you really do transcription AND translation? Nov 13, 2012

I've never done transcription, and I'm not sure it interests me: it does seem more of a secretarial activity than a job for translators, and that's where I started 35 years ago. But I'd still like to understand it. I've highlighted my principal questions below in the hope that that will encourage answers.

Do you really do transcription AND translation?

Doesn't that mean either transcribing in your acquired language or translating into it? I know that some fortunate translators are truly bilingual, but what about those of us who have a slightly-less-than-perfect proficiency in our acquired language? That must be the majority, surely? It certainly seems that way from forum posts and KudoZ activity.

I'm not sure I could guarantee to transcribe French totally accurately. There's so much in French that's hidden from the listener - anyone who speaks French will identify with that. If I'm going to have to worry about whether that "letter A" sound should be spelt é, ée, ées, és, ai, er, ez, et ... well, that's going to take time! Obviously, my knowledge of French will narrow the choice, but those first four seem unfathomable to plenty of native speakers (native French-speaking translators excluded, of course). In France, a dictation test even makes for top, prime-time TV!

But maybe that's only a problem if the clients want to see the transcription. Do they normally want you to deliver the transcription as well as the translation? If it didn't have to be a polished piece of writing, that would save time, though I'm sure it would take me longer to transcribe my acquired language than my native language: I know that I can often get the gist of a partly-overheard English conversation in a crowded room, whereas in a French environment it's just so much noise. I'm sure I'd have to replay things more in my acquired language, or listen to smaller chunks.

I can't help thinking they ought to give the transcription to the most proficient person, the translation likewise. With the exception of those who have perfect command of two languages, that isn't going to be one and the same person. Or maybe I'm looking for perfection where it doesn't, and perhaps doesn't need to, exist.


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Jennifer Gordon Taylor  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:22
Czech to English
+ ...
Beware! Nov 13, 2012

I've done a little transcription work in English (only!) and I've discovered that you really have to be careful what you accept.

I do some on an occasional basis for one agency at a per word rate. It's always relatively short stuff - presentations, in-house videos, etc. with non-native speakers. That is mostly quite rewarding because it's not that difficult and it's not all about typing speed. I'm pretty sure paying by word is unusual though.

However, earlier in the year I took on some work which was transcribing TV news programmes and documentaries, and that was paid per audio minute. With my previous experience, I thought I was a fast typer and it would be quite straightforward. It turns out that newsreaders, while clear speakers the majority of the time, speak very fast, and you find yourself doing a lot of typing! I discovered that I can't actually type that fast on a prolonged basis, and the work ended up being quite laborious so not that well paid.

By the way, whatever you end up charging, get transcription software, e.g. Express Scribe to help you with your work.


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Maja Źróbecka, MITI  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 18:22
English to Polish
+ ...
Some help Nov 13, 2012

Hi Sarah,

I, too had to figure this out not a long time ago, and put a short entry about pricing on my blog. Hope you find it useful.

http://www.mylingua.pl/how-much-to-charge-for-transcription-and-translation/

Best regards,
Maja


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JaneD  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 18:22
Member (2009)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Not enough Nov 13, 2012

Generally speaking, I find that transcription even of English audio simply doesn't pay enough for the time taken, which is a shame as I quite enjoy doing it.

Transcribing and translating as you go is even more poorly paid because it takes much longer.

As I see that you're based in Canada, you'll probably find that any rate that is likely to be accepted isn't sufficient for your time taken, and conversely that any rate you feel it's reasonable to charge will not be accepted!


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xxxchristela
Some answers Nov 13, 2012

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Do you really do transcription AND translation?

These are two distinctive activities. Personally, I can directly translate audio files, but most clients want to have both.

Doesn't that mean either transcribing in your acquired language or translating into it? I know that some fortunate translators are truly bilingual, but what about those of us who have a slightly-less-than-perfect proficiency in our acquired language? That must be the majority, surely? It certainly seems that way from forum posts and KudoZ activity.


Transcribing in your acquired language is much easier than translating into it. If transcription+translation is required, most translators can handle this on their own (transcribing in their second or third language and then translation into their native language).

I'm not sure I could guarantee to transcribe French totally accurately. There's so much in French that's hidden from the listener - anyone who speaks French will identify with that. If I'm going to have to worry about whether that "letter A" sound should be spelt é, ée, ées, és, ai, er, ez, et ... well, that's going to take time! Obviously, my knowledge of French will narrow the choice, but those first four seem unfathomable to plenty of native speakers (native French-speaking translators excluded, of course). In France, a dictation test even makes for top, prime-time TV!


I have seen your messages in the French forum. If you are that bilingual, you can transcribe too.

Do they normally want you to deliver the transcription as well as the translation?[/b]

Yes. But there is another problem, French transcription is now done by pools of typists in Madagascar, for €8 an hour, and the quality isn't even that bad.

I can't help thinking they ought to give the transcription to the most proficient person, the translation likewise. With the exception of those who have perfect command of two languages, that isn't going to be one and the same person. Or maybe I'm looking for perfection where it doesn't, and perhaps doesn't need to, exist.

I think you are looking for too much perfection.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:22
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Thanks, Christela Nov 14, 2012

Thanks for answering my questions.

Yes, I can see that transcribing into an acquired language would be easier than translating into it. You've got all the words after all, it's mainly comprehension - and that's something a translator should have bags of - it's just dotting the Is and crossing the Ts that would be tricky. But I think I'll pass on transcribing French - I won't be able to do it as well as people in Madagascar, and certainly not as cheaply.

But English transcription? That's what we used to call "audio typing", not a job anyone did willingly. In fact I remember being told at secretarial college that we wouldn't learn how to do it because we were being trained as "personal assistants". So we learnt shorthand instead - something that even journalists probably don't use nowadays when their phones can record hours of interview.

Interesting discussion. Thanks for the information.


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Fumi kimura
United States
Local time: 10:22
Member (2014)
English to Japanese
It is really helpful. Nov 12

David Christian wrote:

Sarah,

Consider the average number of words spoken per minute for your source language. For Japanese, this is somewhere around 100-150. Then I charge my normal translation rate for the amount of words spoken, considering the context of the source material. If the transcription is about nuclear physics, I am probably going to charge the highest translation rate possible for each word spoken.

The absolute minimum I charge is 750 yen per spoken minute of audio (around $9), and I ALWAYS ask for a sample before accepting a job. I took one job some years back that was literally impossible to determine what was being said, and it took 10x longer than expected and was a huge loss for me, so getting some idea of the quality (or absolute garbage) you will be working with helps.

I don't break my back for transcription jobs anymore. These companies that tell you the going rate is $3 per minute are making an absolute killing by collecting nearly 80% of the profit for the work you do. The way I look at it is, I set my rate like any other translation job and if the agency/client doesn't like it, they are welcome to take the job to some other poor soul who will be screaming at their computer wondering why they took on so much work for pennies.

Good luck to you,

David Christian
Japanese to English, specializing in wildlife, fisheries, forestry, and agriculture
Tokyo


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Germaine  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:22
Member (2005)
English to French
+ ...
Sarah Nov 20

I’ve been offering transcription services for more than 25 years. I charge 37 CAD/hr. to transcribe the content of tapes/audio files. Depending on the audio quality, the transcription will take 3 to 4 times the duration of the tape/audio file (for corporate meetings or workshops, I usually deliver minutes or accounts, rarely a full (pricey) transcription). So this rate amounts to 1,85 CAD to 2,46 CAD/audio minute.

Unless you have Spencer Reid’s memory, type as fast as Sean Wrona or enjoy working for less then McDonald’s minimum salary, proper equipment (transcription machine/software with pedal, good sound system) is mandatory.

Why don’t you call local agencies and ask what they would charge you to transcribe a 10-minute speech or a 2-hour dictation? (Prepare to answer any question about such job)

You’ll find a quick test and other pointers there:
https://www.quora.com/How-difficult-and-time-consuming-is-it-to-transcribe-audio-files-that-are-1-2-hours-long

Note: word processing services might be a more profitable side-line.


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Germaine  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:22
Member (2005)
English to French
+ ...
Sheila, Nov 20

I agree with your analysis. I’m most efficient transcribing French audio and have to be picky when it comes to English content. Transcription is more than typing words one after the other as you hear (or think you hear) them. You have to make sense of what is said, hear and render the punctuation/tone, apply the grammar. A good job does require a very good command of the language and this expertise is really valuable. Nevertheless, the work is not for everyone. Reviewing "transcriptions" consisting of a 10-page single paragraph (and I won’t talk about the fanciful orthography or the 32-line sentence) would convince you!

When transcribing from a source in English, audio quality is paramount but I also make sure that I have a good knowledge of the subject. Anyway, whatever the language, it’s always a good idea to check the subject-matter of this “short [heinous] speech” or of that “[emotional] interview about war-time [atrocities]” before they get to your ears. Some might be harder to transcribe than “How to care for a goldfish”.

A transcription is “a written or printed representation of something”. Therefore, it seems to me that “I love you” cannot be the written representation of a spoken “Je t’aime”. It’s a translation. So there is no such thing as a “French to English Transcription”. Client should be asked to call the order by its name: does he want a transcription AND its interpretation or a transcription AND its translation? Each part of the job entails its own time effort and price tag. Professionals should value their expertise.


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