Languages with the highest rates
Thread poster: Mark Hemming

Mark Hemming  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:31
Slovenian to English
+ ...
Feb 3

I've often wondered which languages pay the best rates, so have put my findings in an article here - any thoughts welcome!

 

Gitte Hovedskov
Denmark
Local time: 13:31
English to Danish
+ ...
Horrified Feb 3

... to read that the 'best rate' you should hope to achieve for any language by ProZ standards is 0.16 USD per word.

Not the least bit encouraging at all...


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:31
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
SITE LOCALIZER
@Mark Feb 3

Mark Hemming wrote:
[I wrote a blog post titled] Which language you should learn for the best return on investment.


But your article is about which language will give the average person the best return on investment, and not which language commands the highest rates for translation. The article implies or assumes that the polyglot will emigrate to a country where that language is spoken, or that the polyglot will be doing something that requires him to do business with people from those countries.

English [has] official status in 58 countries, although French is official in 29 and Arabic 26.

What "official status" actually means varies by country. For example, Venda is one of the official languages of South Africa, but no-one (except Venda people) speak or understand Venda, and the government does not communicate to Venda people in Venda (instead, it uses English). A third-world country will often choose a first-world language as one of its official languages, but that doesn't mean that that language has any actual use in that country. And Spanish has no official status in the United States, yet is spoken by large numbers and is used by government institutions to communicate to those people.

By logic, learning the language of a country with an expensive cost of living might be an idea, as any company wanting to use your services within that country would probably be willing to pay more.

This statement confuses two things. Firstly, most "cost of living" indexes strictly compare price against price, regardless of what local residents actually earn. A high priced product will be less of a problem for people who earn a lot more money, but "cost of living" indexes ignore that fact. Secondly, if things cost a lot of money in a country, wouldn't it mean that people in that country actually have less money left over to spend on translation?

According to FSI data, you’d need to put in at least 750 hours to get to a reasonable level in Norwegian...

It took me a bit of googling to figure out what "FSI" means. It's the USA government's branch for the training of embassy staff, called the "Foreign Service Institute". They recently released some information on how long it takes for English speakers to learn certain languages.


[Edited at 2020-02-03 12:04 GMT]


 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:31
Member
Italian to English
Direct clients Feb 3

Gitte Hovedskov wrote:

... to read that the 'best rate' you should hope to achieve for any language by ProZ standards is 0.16 USD per word.



By working with direct clients you can earn far above that!


philgoddard
 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Oversaturated volatility Feb 3

Mark, there're too many averages, medians, modes, and means shuffling to any liking, but you miss so many points that I wonder... Who rules the supply-and-demand, creating artificial demands and prices?

One-place sampling is no representative for the same translator may get $0.035/word with repetition grids (what often turns under $0.01/w flat) from one agency, $0.025/w flat from other middleman, some $0.042 for an urgent project, and $0.20/w from a direct client, watering
... See more
Mark, there're too many averages, medians, modes, and means shuffling to any liking, but you miss so many points that I wonder... Who rules the supply-and-demand, creating artificial demands and prices?

One-place sampling is no representative for the same translator may get $0.035/word with repetition grids (what often turns under $0.01/w flat) from one agency, $0.025/w flat from other middleman, some $0.042 for an urgent project, and $0.20/w from a direct client, watering the statistics down to bottom-feeding rates. Why, the same penny-chip agencies may pay $0.20+/word net to a few distinguished translators too!
But are those CAT/PEMT-operators really translators?
(Just give them a pen and a sheet of paper--or a PC without the internet!)

Anyway, I'd rather bet against "favorites" (popular languages), because, as in the real life, only something rare/exotic is of high value. A true gem is an in-demand specialist with decent foreign language skills, not a 'pure' translator. Moreover, unlike real businesses, if translation is the only business, then expanding and pushing for more languages does NOT open new business opportunities. The market shares the same bubbling niches.


Well, the translation market suffers not only from language pairs, but also low entry barriers, lack of hands-on exp/specialization, and flawed to no business awareness: Fair trade? Sale techniques? FABm [features +advantages + benefits + motives]? Negotiations? Pricing? Equal business party? Planning? 'WIIFM vs So what?' Diversification? Whatever.

Such non-businesspersons are but food for spongers, doomed to career changes even in their own country.
Hopefully, 'translator' is not an euphemism for 'unskilled', 'rejected', 'unemployed', or 'hobbyist'.


Nope, I have nothing against bottom-feeders, I just vote for real specialists with decent foreign language skills, no "pure" translators)
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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 12:31
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
@Mark Feb 3

Aren’t you forgetting the laws of supply and demand? Hmong commands a top rate of $0.16 per word, but I wonder how many people in the Hmong community would need a translation from Hmong into Portuguese (my working language)?

 

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 13:31
Member (2016)
English to German
Adding a language does not improve your situation in the translation market Feb 3

Mark, it seems you are considering ways to improve the income as a translator. That makes sense. But I think your thoughts are going in the wrong direction.

It might be natural for a translator to consider proficiency in more languages a chance to grow professionally, but if you want to achieve higher rates, this is not the way to go. You have to look at the market mechanics. When you want higher rates, you have to offer something to the individual client that few other translators
... See more
Mark, it seems you are considering ways to improve the income as a translator. That makes sense. But I think your thoughts are going in the wrong direction.

It might be natural for a translator to consider proficiency in more languages a chance to grow professionally, but if you want to achieve higher rates, this is not the way to go. You have to look at the market mechanics. When you want higher rates, you have to offer something to the individual client that few other translators offer.

But an additional language (which will be an additional source language in most cases) does not add any value for the individual client. I have never seen a project with more than one source language yet. So there is no particular advantage for a project if you can offer several source languages.

True, you will have access to more projects when you have more source languages. But at the same time, you are competing with many more rival translators. And in the competition with any other of these rival translators, you have no advantage - they offer the same service you do, namely translating the project from its source language to its target language. Which means you still compete on price only and that's where the spiral goes down, not up.

The alternative is obvious: You need to add non-linguistic expertise. If you want to improve your market situation, and thus achieve higher rates, you need an advantage over your rival translators in specific projects. By specializing, you can better serve the needs of the clients. You get access to projects with much less competition. And that's where the higher rates are. Therefore, the really interesting question might have been "Fields of specialization with the highest rates".

By the way, what I said above will not apply to interpreters - you can imagine situations where more languages will be a distinct advantage for an interpreter.
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Yolanda Broad
Dan Lucas
Ana Cuesta
Vi Pukite
Vesa Korhonen
Josephine Cassar
ahartje
 

Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:31
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Highest rates Feb 4

By all rights, a language such as Japanese should command high rates. But PMs have heart attacks when I quote USD 0.12/word for medical Japanese. That is why I stick to direct clients at USD 0.16/word or higher.

 

David GAY  Identity Verified
Dutch to French
+ ...
too late Feb 4

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:

Mark, it seems you are considering ways to improve the income as a translator. That makes sense. But I think your thoughts are going in the wrong direction.

It might be natural for a translator to consider proficiency in more languages a chance to grow professionally, but if you want to achieve higher rates, this is not the way to go. You have to look at the market mechanics. When you want higher rates, you have to offer something to the individual client that few other translators offer.

But an additional language (which will be an additional source language in most cases) does not add any value for the individual client. I have never seen a project with more than one source language yet. So there is no particular advantage for a project if you can offer several source languages.

True, you will have access to more projects when you have more source languages. But at the same time, you are competing with many more rival translators. And in the competition with any other of these rival translators, you have no advantage - they offer the same service you do, namely translating the project from its source language to its target language. Which means you still compete on price only and that's where the spiral goes down, not up.

The alternative is obvious: You need to add non-linguistic expertise. If you want to improve your market situation, and thus achieve higher rates, you need an advantage over your rival translators in specific projects. By specializing, you can better serve the needs of the clients. You get access to projects with much less competition. And that's where the higher rates are. Therefore, the really interesting question might have been "Fields of specialization with the highest rates".

By the way, what I said above will not apply to interpreters - you can imagine situations where more languages will be a distinct advantage for an interpreter.

I've already bought the manual
How to become bilingual in hmong in 24 hours
By the way, Mark, you translate from languages that are pretty rare
What are the rates in your pairs?

[Modifié le 2020-02-04 09:26 GMT]


 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Speaking as someone who actually works from Norwegian... Feb 4

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:
Adding a language does not improve your situation in the translation market


It most certainly can. Especially if you don't have any specialist subject knowledge.

Norwegian into English pays significantly better than, say, French into English.

It even pays better than Swedish into English, and they're practically the same language.

And it's not really a matter of supply and demand. Translation prices in Norway are high simply because everything in Norway is expensive.

The big agencies in Scandinavia are generally looking to pay 10-12 cents a word for generalist translation into English. So if you're working from French at 6-8 cents a word, adding a more lucrative language like Norwegian is a no-brainer (financially, at least).


Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL
 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Bubble bubble Feb 4

> It most certainly can. Especially if you don't have any specialist subject knowledge.
Chiss, you must be joking: A newbie without specialty or hands-on experience just can’t do better than an experienced translator in the field. Mind you that translation is for corresponding specialists or users, not just "pure" translators. Also it’s very doubtful that direct competitors will gladly share their market segment. Though I agree that most clients don’t have to pay freela
... See more
> It most certainly can. Especially if you don't have any specialist subject knowledge.
Chiss, you must be joking: A newbie without specialty or hands-on experience just can’t do better than an experienced translator in the field. Mind you that translation is for corresponding specialists or users, not just "pure" translators. Also it’s very doubtful that direct competitors will gladly share their market segment. Though I agree that most clients don’t have to pay freelancers extra for 10+ years of exp.

> And it's not really a matter of supply and demand.
Say what? You’re really talking strange things, because it’s the fundamentals of economy: Why should one pay you if he doesn’t require your skills, language pairs, or services? Sure, let alone nobody wants to pay more.
So, why should an Indian, a Polish, or even a Norwegian agency pay higher rates at the global market, especially if there’re plenty of eager bottom-feeders? No reason.

> The big agencies in Scandinavia are generally looking to pay…
Just another headless blunder: intermediaries/brokers just take money from real business (end clients) to pay to real LSPs, having nice commissions (sometimes 75+%). Furthermore, very few agencies do their work to secure the deal properly. Monopoly rulez.

By the way, even cherished $0.10+/word with “discounts” often may easily fall below petty $0.01/w flat. Just do the math!
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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
@Dizzy Feb 4

DZiW wrote:
Chiss, you must be joking: A newbie without specialty or hands-on experience just can’t do better than an experienced translator in the field.

I did, once upon a time. But that’s not what I said. I’m simply saying that run-of-the-mill Norwegian commands more than run-of-the-mill French.


nobody wants to pay more.

No, but markets aren’t perfect. Not everything is global, and Norwegians are used to paying more for everything.


even cherished $0.10+/word with “discounts” often may easily fall below petty $0.01/w flat. Just do the math!

No, Diz, you do the math. The discounts are for repetitions where little or no work is required. If the TM is good, you’ll end up earning more per hour.

And surely you don’t expect clients with biz skills to pay more than they need to?


 

Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:31
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Word count difference Feb 4

Chris S wrote:

The big agencies in Scandinavia are generally looking to pay 10-12 cents a word for generalist translation into English. So if you're working from French at 6-8 cents a word, adding a more lucrative language like Norwegian is a no-brainer (financially, at least).


If you take into account the word count difference (800 words of Norwegian = 1000 words of English vs 1200 words of French = 1000 words of English), there is not much of a financial difference.



[Edited at 2020-02-05 17:11 GMT]


Chris S
Christine Andersen
 

Aliseo Japan
Japan
Local time: 20:31
Member
Italian to Japanese
+ ...
Japan Feb 5

Chris S wrote:
Translation prices in Norway are high simply because everything in Norway is expensive.

I wish it were the same in Japan, which is very expensive.


 


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