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How much should you pay for translation?

16 May 2019

Mathieu

What a great question, I’m so glad you asked! The answer:

It depends.

In any case, you can always bet there will be someone willing to do it for less. Sometimes, a lot less. Ridiculously less. So offensively cheap that you might start having things translated just for fun. If “getting a deal” is your number one priority, you should probably just leave this page right now.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

These days, I spend most of my evenings telling stories (this happens when you become the proud father of a young boy). Let me share one of my favourites…

Once upon a time, there was a carpenter ant exterminator who owned his own extermination business.

– What do you do for a living? he asked me.
– I’m a translator, I told him.
– Oh really? Does being a translator actually pay the bills? I ask, because I had my website translated for dirt cheap.
– Do you speak English?
– No.
– Do you have a lot of English-speaking clients?
– No.
– Have you attracted more English-speaking clients since translating your website?
– No. Strangely enough, I would say that I have even less. I used to snag the odd bilingual English-speaking client, but not anymore.
– Any other answer would have shocked me. Your French site is really great. However, your English site is…how can I put it nicely? Utter crap. It’s obvious you don’t speak English, or you would have never signed off on that translation.

This exterminator got a “bargain” which, in the end, cost him his reputation with his English-speaking clients.

—THE END—

Situations like this are spreading even faster than carpenter ants themselves. And just like those ants, these “pestiferous translations” do more damage than meets the eye. They chip away at what you’ve built (or are trying to build). A little bit from here, a little bit from there. And then boom! The whole thing comes crashing down.

Sure, this business owner paid little for his initial translation, but he paid a heavy price for it in the end:

  • initial cost of the “pestiferous translation”;
  • loss of customers;
  • sullied reputation;
  • cost of retranslating (done by actual professionals, this time around).

He fell into the trap set by a silver-tongued salesperson who convinced him that it’s actually possible to get anything of quality at 5¢ per word. Yet, everything seemed so believable:

  • a professional website;
  • a collection of certifications;
  • compelling testimonials;
  • an impressive client list;
  • thousands of “qualified” translators…

You can buy a flashy website.

Certifications as well. Case in point: These guys were certified left and right.

Testimonials…If the exterminator had given spontaneous feedback on the work he had just received, what could it have looked like?

“Excellent customer service, quick turnaround, competitive rates, very happy!”

Compelling, right? That’s usually the kind of testimonials you’ll read on those websites (when the testimonials are real, anyway). But what does it say about the quality of the work? Nothing, really. It sure doesn’t tell you that the work was of such poor quality that this guy actually lost clients down the road. Now, all of those are important; don’t get me wrong. But if the translation is “utter crap,” wouldn’t you agree that this is actually quite meaningless?

As for the client list…don’t even get me started; I could write a whole other article on that topic alone. For now, I will simply stick to saying that translations done for these types of clients are overwhelmingly bad and will inevitably catch up with them (if they haven’t already).

Now, for the biggest sham of all: when huge agencies brag about having thousands of qualified translators.

1. They decide whether they think a translator is qualified or not, when in fact they, themselves, usually aren’t even properly qualified.

2. Most of the time, these translators don’t have an educational background in translation.1 That little nugget of information is exactly what these cut-rate translation agencies don’t want you to know.

A good way to suss out an agency’s true colours is to find out what type of translator they are looking for. Do they just want the neighbour down the street who speaks (or claims to speak) at least two languages?2 If the answer is yes, keep moving and don’t look back.

3. Quality translators don’t work for next to nothing. Flashback to the example of the exterminator, who paid just 5¢ per word for his translation. Of that 5¢, let’s imagine that the translator only gets 2¢. A diligent, highly skilled and experienced translator can, on average, translate 200 to 350 words per hour. Do the math and we’re looking at between $4 to $7 an hour. It’s 2019. Would you bust your chops for $4 or $7 an hour?

The question is, who is actually taking jobs for 2¢ per word? Someone more concerned about quantity over quality, that’s who. Probably the same person who would copy and paste your text into a machine translation software. You could have done that yourself…and for free!

4. The most reputable translation agencies and firms search high and low to find just a handful of qualified translators. Do you really believe that some agencies have miraculously found thousands? At subpar rates? Really? Are we honestly expected to buy that?

 

Machine translation or human translation?

Do you get a machine to write for you? No? Then why would you let a machine write something for you in another language?

A great way to lose the attention of your audience, is to make them read something that has been machine translated.

“Yeah, but the machine translation is reviewed by a real person.”

Please tell me you’re not actually buying that. “Just touch up these phrases devoid of all meaning that have been spit out by the machine…” Yeah, that makes sense.

Cue the mistakes! Even the most advanced machine translation software still produces translations that are riddled with mistakes. And I’m not just talking about common language mistakes. I’m talking about the even more detrimental errors, such as those that affect meaning (where the translated text doesn’t say the same thing as the original).

Even the best posteditor3 wouldn’t be able to catch every error. And let’s face it, machine translation is as cheap an option as you can get, so naturally, the less time the posteditor spends on fixing the translation, the better. Since the focus is on pinching pennies, there is no way these agencies are getting the best and brightest in the industry. The most talented revisers expect to be paid what they’re worth.4

“Naturally, the less time the posteditor spends on fixing the translation, the better.”

Just another reason why you should stay far away from machine translations, and the agencies who promise you the moon and stars, at laughable rates—they are probably leveraging machine translation software and employing underqualified staff. A skilled translator is, above all, a talented writer. And what’s the common denominator? They are human. And understanding just the right things to say in order to wow an audience, is a uniquely human trait.

The power of words lies in their ability to make people feel.5 Machines can’t feel. Artificial intelligence, no matter how “intellectually” advanced, still lacks the most underrated form of intelligence required when writing or translating: emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is what separates a captivating text that has the reader thirsting for more, from a hollow text that leaves the reader feeling disinterested and disengaged.

Do you translate documents with the intention of leaving your target audience feeling flat?

If, in some parallel universe, you still think that it’s possible to achieve the best quality result from “touching up” machine translations, I have just one question for you:

Can you take this…

…and turn it into this?

 

Asking a posteditor to take something artificial and turn it into something natural, is asking for a miracle.

 

Okay, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that your translation “isn’t that bad.”

“I just want to see results.”

Alright.

Did you like my story about the exterminator? Good! Let me tell you another.

Once upon a time, there was you, Tradëm, and a run-of-the-mill translation agency. The run-of-the-mill translation agency tells you:

– Give me a dollar, and I’ll give you two.

Tradëm tells you:

– Give me two dollars, and I’ll give you ten.

You tell the run-of-the-mill translation agency:

– Here’s your dollar.

—THE END—

 

Would you actually pay one dollar to earn two when you could invest two dollars and come out the other side with ten?

That’s the difference between getting a translation that blows your socks off, or one that’s merely passable. You might see results either way; however, your results will be significantly better if you go with the real pros—the ones who put their heart and soul into their work and truly care about their clients. Putting your faith in translators that have what it takes, to turn your words into gold, is priceless.

Invest in quality. Invest in a qualified translator.

 

“On your homepage, it says you offer competitive rates.”

We do. Absolutely.

We provide a premium service, and our rates are some of the most affordable amongst other top-tier agencies.

And we truly believe we offer the best service.

How?

As we’ve said in previous articles:

1. We have the best team of translators, revisers, and proofreaders.

We have succeeded in understanding something really basic, that many other translation agencies or firms just haven’t (or don’t want to?). Language professionals matter, and partnering with them is essential to the success of any business. We believe that they deserve to be paid and treated like the superstars they are. They aren’t just your average “Joe Blow” that can be replaced with a snap of your fingers.

That is how we attract—and keep—only the cream of the crop. I’ve lost count of the number of first-rate translators who told us they wouldn’t touch any translation agency or firm with a ten-foot pole. That is, before meeting us.6 They want to work for us…and it’s clearly reflected in their work.

Speaking of the cream of the crop…

2. All of our language professionals are rock stars. No ifs, ands, or buts. And we refuse to work them into the ground.

Translation agencies and firms that only see dollar signs must constantly be on the lookout for new employees and be at the ready to hire new freelancers to meet their needs.

They will tell you that they rigorously test all applicants. That is all well and good…but tell me, if every hopeful who applied was unfit, and if the money-hungry firm needed translators in a pinch, are they really going to turn down a lucrative deal because they don’t have enough translators to get the job done? Highly unlikely.

The firm is now stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can choose to either take on the dime-a-dozen translators or overwork their current employees or freelancers. What do they do? In many cases, the firm hires the subpar translators AND forces their employees or freelancers to take on more than they can handle. All you end up with is the risk of your content being translated by an overworked, mediocre translator, and revised by a run-down, second-rate reviser. Not really a recipe for success, wouldn’t you agree?

So, how exactly are we different? Myriam and I (the co-founders of Tradëm) are translators first and entrepreneurs second. We are committed to publicly defending translators’ rights and have shown time and again that we aren’t just interested in making money.

 

Myriam Gagnon and Mathieu Gaudet Binet

 

To put it plainly, when we say quality, we mean it. We have never compromised on quality—and we never will—and that’s that. If we have even the slightest doubt that we won’t be able to do your text justice, we will let you know straight away and will try to point you in the direction of someone who can. We will never overextend our resources and we will never lower the bar when sourcing quality translators. If we did any of those things, we wouldn’t be doing you any favours.

At Tradëm, we care for the quality of the work and for the people that provide it. Making money is important, but not if it means compromising on the quality of our translations, the service that we offer to our clients, or the well-being of our team members.

3. All of our translations are revised by experienced and professional revisers.

That is one of the best things about working with a firm that really means business.

Myriam and I have had the honour of shadowing some of the greatest minds in translation. These top-notch translators believe that every translation must be reviewed—no exceptions. Mistakes or missteps can be spied out in almost any translation—even theirs.7

At Tradëm, all translations are revised by seasoned revisers, even those done by our most skillful translators. We aim for perfection.

If you are not completely satisfied, we want to know.8 If necessary, we will gladly rework our translation and will keep your preferences on file for future projects.

We work FOR you and WITH you, so that nothing gets lost in translation.
You’re in good hands with Tradëm!

 

Our services are “pricey”…and they’re worth every penny!

Our rates are “high.” That’s how we are able to offer the highest-quality translations that truly meet your needs and yield the best results. When you receive a translation from Tradëm, you aren’t just paying for a service, you are paying for the experience of our team: Myriam, myself, and our word wizards.

It would be easy for us to be just like so many others. We, too, could lie to your face and make you believe that we offer exceptional service and high-quality work at ridiculously low prices. But that would feel cheap, wouldn’t it?

The harsh reality is that if you aren’t ready to pay a fair price for the services of a premium, professional translation agency, maybe you would be best off just not bothering with translation at all. It’s just that simple.

 

Now, back to where we started…

How much should you pay for translation?

My answer is still the same: It depends.

You have the choice between:

3. The bottom-of-the-barrel, which costs practically nothing, but might come back to haunt you.
2. The middle-of-the-road, which costs a little more, but doesn’t really have anything to show for it.
1. The premium, which is “pricey,” but is worth every penny.

Maybe the better question should be:

How much is a quality translation worth?

 

To find out, request a free quote here.

Do you have a question about our company or our profession? Contact us at [email protected]. Your question might just get featured on our blog or on one of our Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts.


1. Translation is taught in university.

2. For the love of all that’s good and decent, when meeting a translator, don’t ask them how many languages they speak: it’s completely irrelevant.

3. Generally, those who review machine translations are called “posteditors.”

4. …and generally steer clear from postediting.

5. The same goes for an informative text. In order for your message to come through loud and clear, you have to pique your reader’s interest and keep them glued to the page. You have to choose words that will resonate with them.

6. The hard truth (just one of many): Translators aren’t usually drawn to translation agencies or firms.

7. Just imagine what we can find in machine-made translations!

8. If you think we aced it, it would be nice to know as well. 😉


© Tradëm Translations GP, 2019