Rates for audio transcription + translation?
Thread poster: Daphnelita (X)

Daphnelita (X)
Nov 6, 2015

Hi everyone,

I'm asking here your advice concerning how much I should charge someone who asks me to transcribe a French audio into English. It is a 5 hour-long documentary (about Charlie Chaplin) and I have no idea of how long this is going to take me, and I am confused about all the different rates I saw on the Internet, in forums etc...

I'm looking forward to reading your advice!


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
Member (2007)
+ ...
Firstly, you don't transcribe from one language to another Nov 6, 2015

Daphnelita wrote:
I'm asking here your advice concerning how much I should charge someone who asks me to transcribe a French audio into English. It is a 5 hour-long documentary (about Charlie Chaplin) and I have no idea of how long this is going to take me

If it were something fairly short and easy, such as a phone message, and the client simply wanted to know (roughly) what was said, you could listen and type it out in another language - more like interpreting plus typing.

If the written record is important, and maybe even to be used as a basis for subtitles, further translations etc, that just won't do. That's surely the case here. Even if the client doesn't want you to deliver the transcript in the source language (and they probably DO expect it), you'll need to perform that step. The job entails:
- transcription (converting source audio into written text in the source language)
- inserting timestamps as required
- checking (relistening to make sure the transcript is accurate)
- translating into the target language
- anything else that may be required by the client, which depends on what they're going to do with the target text.

Clients have a nasty way of saying "just transcribe this into language Y" and thinking they'll pay a few cents per target word. Don't fall for it! It will take you maybe 4-10 minutes to transcribe each minute of audio. If they really don't want the transcript then you can save juat a little time (leaving typos, not worrying too much about punctuation). Estimate this step by taking a few minutes from different places in the audio at random and actually working on them. Your fee should take account of how many hours it will take (as should your translation rate, for that matter). Then you have to add your normal translation rate for the rest of the job.

If this agency is just asking for a quote for a bilingual transcription, without giving any further details, they'll probably be horrified at the fee. But better to "miss out" on this project than get roped into spending weeks (probably with a totally unrealistic deadline) earning peanuts.

Absalon Guzman

Thayenga  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:49
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
2 different types of work Nov 6, 2015

I agree with Sheila. Transcription and translation are 2 different types of work. Transcription should be paid by the hour. You can use time stamps to mark the beginning and the end of your transcription work as well as any breaks you need to take.

Most agencies want to pay translation per audio minute. If an audio minute contains only 2 - 5 words, then that's a good rate. But what if there are 50 or 60 words "cramped" into 1 audio minute? Perhaps even with several speakers?

As Sheila has advised, quote your hourly rate for the transcription process, and your per word rate for the translation.icon_smile.gif

Absalon Guzman

Vinciane Arreghini  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
English to French
...adding another layer Nov 6, 2015

I completely agree with what was said by Sheila and Thayenga!

I'm a freelance translator as well and was asked to transcribe a French audio file into French a while ago. The audio lasted 3 hours and I was paid 25 USD per audio file hour, so 75 USD in total. I didn't know anything about transcription then, especially that 8 to 10 hours are requested to transcribe 1 hour of audio file!!! As a result, I was paid 75 USD for three long days of work (10 hours a day)! So I told the the guy who asked me for the job that I would be willing to take other transcriptions only if I was paid per hour of work and not per hour of audio file. I haven't heard from him since...

My advice: don't let yourself fall for this, it's not worth the amount of work!!icon_wink.gif


Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
Swedish to English
+ ...
Learning the hard way Nov 6, 2015

I learned the hard way about the problems of transcribing/translating. I was offered a job with a lot of recordings of interviews. I thought I had an ingenious technical solution - I had the audio files and played them back into Dragon, my speech recognition software. It has a special facility for transcribing audio recordings. So it was just a matter of playing back the audio of the source files, while I dictated my translation into the target text. I set to work full of optimism.

Several hours later I phoned the customer to say that it was hopeless. The source text (the interviews) was rather rapid, and I kept falling behind. Dragon kept up, but then another problem appeared. The interviewer and interviewee were not native speakers. They spoke quickly, and with strong accents. Dragon was quick, but the output was full of mistakes. Not Dragon's fault – it cannot make mistakes. It plays back the sounds you make - not what you think you are making. I am using Dragon now.

Lesson learned: transcription is a specialised activity. You need to prepare in advance. You may even need to buy special transcription equipment. I think that Dragon is potentially a good solution. Meanwhile, I agree with the other answers above.


Alain Bolduc  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:49
French to English
+ ...
Words per documentary minute Nov 10, 2015

I was asking myself the same questions recently.

After doing a little bit of research, I came across an article that gave a baseline of 130 words per minute for most documentaries, which is a fast pace for most people to keep up with if trying to type along.

I know I would probably have to listen and stop several times during the playback in order to capture everything properly, so that it could actually take me 2 or three time the duration of the documentary, and possibly longer, for the transcription, time stamping, and word count between timestamps which is also usually required, particularly if the video will be dubbed.

At that word per minute rate, you can also count on a total of roughly 39000 source words, or 156 standard 250 word pages, for a 5 hour duration, which you would typically translate after you've completed all of the transcription related tasks.

Overall, I would say you could be looking at 3 to 4 weeks of work for the project you've described, assuming you're working 5 days a week, although I have limited experience with this myself and am extrapolating from the numbers.

[Edited at 2015-11-11 02:33 GMT]


walk_dar  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
French to English
+ ...
subtitling is not the same as transcribing Nov 12, 2015

I've been subtitling films for amara (www.amara.org) just to see how I liked it. The money's derisory, but at the same time, it's a good way to learn.

I've found transcribing from Fr-Eng and Eng-Fr very easy when I'm subtitling, but in this case, the translations tend to be a lot closer syntactically to the source. The reason is that otherwise it just feels wrong to have a big discrepancy between what is heard and seen since there are so many common words between those two languages.

Nevertheless, I think I'd go for a one pass approach, but I'm very comfortable interpreting. A documentary shouldn't be too bad but here are a few things to be aware of in general:

-Be aware of TV comedy where many people are interrupting and talking over each other, or interviews with many interruptions.
-Will you be given decent audio or just a poor MP3? I ask as I've been a sound engineer for the past 14 years and can slow speech down without too many artifacts if I'm given high quality files rather than MP3 files which tend to fall apart.
-Are you being asked to timecode for each new scene?
-Are you being asked to make a note of each speaker's name at the start of each caption? - and, if it's audio only, will you know who they are?
-What's your procedure if you can't make out what's being said?
-Will you be given any background info?

All the best.


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Rates for audio transcription + translation?

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