Asociación Argentina de Traductores

AATT - Asociación Argentina de Traductores Técnico-Científicos

Artículos y Publicaciones

On the Cost of a Translation

By Lic., Tr. & Prof. Hugh Torres


The first thing a client normally wants to know is how much the translation will cost. The answer to such a question can only be given after an inspection of what has to be translated (be it a letter, an abstract, a song, a book, etc.). The inspection should be carried out by the translator him/herself. The reason for not relying on someone else's description is that only the professional eye is trained to evaluate a job without the risk of misrepresenting it.

In spite of the fact that it is quite sensible to grant the translator direct access to the source text before an estimate is passed, some clients are very reluctant to allow the inspection of the original text. If this happens, the translator should request access to a copy, a fax or an on-line version of the text. Manuals, magazines or books, do not have to be inspected in full. The inspection of the contents page and a few sample pages of long texts often serves the purpose.

On inspection, the translator should note the code in which the text is written, the length of the text and its register.

The code is the language that a writer uses to express ideas. English-Spanish translators deal with two codes: English and Spanish. But, since we are native Spanish speakers, we often have better insight in the Spanish language. As for English, we read it well but, to a greater or lesser degree, we can write it not without exertion. We feel more at ease translating into Spanish rather than into English. This will show in the cost of the translation: translating into Spanish is about a third cheaper than into English.

Texts are normally measured using a page unit: an A4 sheet with text printed on one side in "Arial", font size 11 and 1.5-spaced. The length of a text of origin is the number of A4 pages the text covers or would eventually cover (if it were printed on this format). The length influences inversely on the cost of the translation. Thus, the longer a text is, the lower the cost of its translation per page. As regards fractions or texts that are shorter than the unit of measure, they are charged as a whole A4 page because the effort at the sitting is about the same.

The inspection of the source text should also enable the translator to determine its register. By register I mean the speciality and complexity of the text. There are three main registers that grade in difficulty: plain, technical and scientific. A plain text is the one written in current English or Spanish, a technical text is written in jargon English or Spanish; and a scientific text is written in the English or Spanish of the pure sciences (mathematics, logic, physics, medicine, etc.). Plain texts are generally easier to translate than technical texts, and technical texts are in turn easier than scientific ones. The easier the text, the cheaper the translation.

For instance, a letter of referral in medical English (scientific) will render a more costly translation than a personal letter in ordinary English (plain).

Since not all texts that fall into a certain register are equally difficult to translate, the three categories allow for various degrees of complexity that reflect on the cost of the translation. Therefore, texts belonging to the same register may sometimes result in translations that differ in price if the complexity of the text demands it. For example, the translation of a very intricate genomics abstract (scientific +++) will cost more than the translation of a clear abstract on a chemistry issue (scientific).

One more factor that comes under consideration at the moment of estimating the cost of a translation is the type of translation required. Translations can be complete, abridged or partial. In a complete translation every single idea expressed in the text of origin is translated. Even the graphs and the captioning of pictures are considered for translation. The cost of a complete translation depends on the code, length and register of the whole text of origin.

Yet, it is sometimes the case that the client is not interested in every detail but in the gist of the text. The translation will then deal exclusively with the main ideas, omitting repetition, afterthoughts, secondary ideas, graphs, pictures and exemplification. This is called an abridged translation and may cost two-thirds the price of a complete one.

In many cases, clients require detailed translations of a part or parts of a larger text. These partial translations could be a paragraph of a letter, a couple of clauses in a contract or the results section of a paper, for example. If the translation of the parts can be done without minding the rest of the text, the cost of the partial translation is estimated by working out the code, length and register factors applicable to the parts involved. When, for the sake of understanding, the partial translation requires the reading of the whole text of origin, an extra could be charged at the translator's discretion.

The last factor that comes into play at the moment of estimating the cost of a translation is urgency. The time it takes to translate a text is set according to the characteristics of the job and the translator's availability. If there is urgency, the translator will probably have to increase his/her available time by postponing other jobs, working running hours and even overnight. The inconveniences that urgent translations bring about reflect on the cost. Urgent translations are paid up to twice as much as an ordinary translation.

Conclusively, to know the cost of a translation, the code, length and register of the text of origin should be determined through personal inspection of the text.

Careful consideration of these factors, together with the type of translation required and the urgency the client has will yield an accurate estimate on the cost of a translation.