What Does a Good Language Translation Cost?

The short answer: A lot less than a bad one.

“You get what you pay for” is an old and well-known saying in the English language. Most of us know that from personal experience, but we don’t consider this idea for every purchase we make. Typically, when shopping for something, buyers balance price with other factors, such as quality, convenience, speed and service. Yet when it comes to buying language translation services, very often consumers consider nothing but price. Simply buying the cheapest translation available can be risky and lead to bigger problems down the road. But why does translation not get the same considerations as other important things we buy?

Glad you asked. We have a few possible ideas…

Translation is (sorely) misunderstood

“Translation is easy..” 

“Anyone who speaks another language can translate…” 

These are two myths that don’t die easily. Eating food doesn’t make you a great chef, being a good driver doesn’t make you a mechanic…and speaking two languages doesn’t make you a translator.

Translation is a very difficult activity that takes years of studying and experience to master. Why? Because human language is very complex and has evolved (and continues to do so) for tens of thousands of years. Translation is more than just cranking out words in another language. If it were that easy, machine translation, i.e. Google Translate, etc., would replace all human translators (read here why it hasn’t). It involves parsing subtle meanings, knowing the subject matter intimately, choosing the right terminology, grammar and syntax for complex ideas and making sure the meaning is conveyed properly in the target language.

Many people think they can save money by giving a translation project to someone in their office because that person speaks the target language.

There are a number of problems with this approach:

  • The person is likely not a professional translator
  • Translating takes them away from what they were hired to do, which can add significant soft costs to the company’s bottom line
  • They probably don’t have all the tools (technical dictionaries) and software (translation memory, formatting) to deliver a professional product
  • The person may not be sufficiently knowledgable in the subject matter they are being asked to translate (asking your accountant, for example, to translate your company’s marketing collateral or technical product manuals because they speak the target language)

A good, professional translator not only knows how to translate, they are competent in the content of what they are translating and will turn down jobs involving subjects they are not comfortable with. Cheap translators and in house resources who simply speak the target language are far more likely to accept any job that comes their way, often with negative consequences for the requestor.

Using a cheaper service means saving money

Translation services that offer the lowest price have to make a profit somewhere. They often try by outsourcing the work to unqualified translators who are willing to work for peanuts or use a machine translation service to crank out a very low-cost, but poor translation. This cheap way out can lead to increased costs and more time if the content has to be re-translated by a professional. If any materials were printed with the bad translation, a costly second trip to the printer could also be in order. Far more damaging might be the hit to your company’s image. Those costs are much harder to calculate.

By contrast, a professional translation firm works with experienced, qualified linguists. The superior resources and extra quality control does mean the translation will cost more, but it also means you will get a much better product in the end. Moreover, professional translators and agencies use translation memory tools which can actually lead to better pricing. These tools increase translation consistency and lower average per word costs over time, and because they are expensive, they are not likely to be used by cheaper translators or in house resources.

Translation is just an afterthought

Companies spend an enormous amount of time and money developing their product or service, and then marketing it with just the right message. But very often companies do not budget for translation from the beginning of the process or consider the same investment for their non-English-speaking markets. Having success in international markets means planning and investing in a quality translation service that understands what is needed to be successful. What works for your English-speaking customers may have the complete opposite effect elsewhere.

What’s the bottom line? By making the right investment in an experienced and quality language service partner, you can prevent a lot of extra expense, headache and frustration down the road. You can also give your non-English-speaking customers the same great experience as your original audience.