The simple answer is that it depends on the translator and the terms of conditions of employment. Are they in house? Or are they freelance?
Translation involves lots of variables that affect the price of your translation. Even the city your translator lives in can have an impact on their earnings. For instance, in Birmingham, salaries as high as £50,456 per year have been recorded. Meanwhile, across the pond in the USA, depending on the city, a translator can earn around $90,000 or more, which is almost £73,500 or more per year.
Below is a deeper look into translator rates and the factors that influence them.
If you hire a freelance translator in the UK, you can expect to pay up to £0.16 per word for your translation, possibly more; however, the cost per word will increase over time. An autumn 2022 survey by the Institute of Translating and Interpreting found that 50% of its members have increased their rates or are planning to do so within three to six months of the survey, which was carried out in early October 2022.
In the US, freelance translators have reported earning an average standard rate of between 10 and 13 cents per word (£0.08 and £0.11) when working into a foreign language from English.
In terms of hourly rates, translators earn up to £30 in the UK, according to compensation software and data company PayScale, whereas in the US translators have reported earning $30 to $45 per hour or more (£24.50 to £36.77) when working from English into a foreign language.
It’s worth noting that the translation industry can be highly fragmented. From my experience, I have seen rates as low as £0.04 per word and as high as £0.4 per word. When recalculated to a per-hour rate, this amounts to anything between £10 and £100 per hour.
Why do translators earn so much for their work?
A number of factors determine the cost of a translation. Word count is the main one because it allows the translator to assess how much work they have to do. Here are a few less obvious ones:
What language pair are you looking for? A pair as common as English>French or English>Spanish won’t cost you as much as English>Croatian or English>Japanese, for instance. The rarer the language combination, the more your translator will command for working with it.
Besides understanding the source language and rendering an equivalent in the target language, your translator must:
- know all about the subject matter and the industry or niche in which the text is being produced;
- understand how the terminology is applied in both languages;
- and be aware of how each audience will understand the terms used, which calls for cultural knowledge, too.
To put it another way, if the source text is a financial report, the target text should read like a financial report. If it’s a legal text, it should read like a legal text. Your translator may have to research extensively to achieve this.
When you’re paying good money for a translation, you don’t want some scrappily formatted document that looks like a two-year old has been working on it. The use of translation memories and tools is common in the industry, and will help your translator to respect the original format of your documents. If your document contains graphs and/or images, or if the formatting is exceptionally complicated, the translator may hire a specialist to help keep the document as close to the original formatting as possible.
Like anyone else, translators have business costs to meet: electricity, membership of professional associations, licences for translation software and other software, such as Microsoft 365, and more. They may also subscribe to trade press publications so that they can keep their finger on the pulse. This is important because terminology and other elements can change.
It’s always worth remembering that good translators earn a lot precisely because of the different skills and expertise necessary to produce high-quality translations. If a quote for a translation is more than you expected, you might wish to speak to the translator to understand why it’s so high. Ideally, this post should have already gone some way to explaining that.