10 Factors That Help Determine Translation And Interpretation Fees So you think: "Translating and interpreting is easy, anyone who knows two languages can do it. It should be really cheap, right?" Wrong.

Greater than 6 minutes, my friend!

Just A Translator

So you think: “Translating and interpreting is easy, anyone who knows two languages can do it.  Right?”


Let’s examine in detail what really it really means to be a translator or interpreter and what determines the cost of translating and interpreting.

1. Language Pairs

Knowing two languages does not guarantee that someone can translate or interpret well between them.

Translators and interpreters must of course know both the source and target language at an expert level, much more than native speaker level, but also the regional variations of both languages.

Are the clients Americans in California or British in London?

Both speak English but it’s not the same English.

Supply and demand is another factor.

How rare is a particular language pair?

Some language pairs are more easily available than others.

In order for a translator and interpreter to become an experts in his native tongue and also in one or more foreign language(s) they obtain a formal education.
2. Education & Credentials

Few people take into account the years of study that is required to reach expert native-speaker level for one or more foreign languages.

As with most professions, professional translators and interpreters receive training, certifications and language degrees from colleges, universities or other recognized language programs.

Translators and interpreters join professional organizations, engage in ongoing training and attend seminars.

They are constantly learning new terminology, improving their skill set, knowledge base and acquiring experience.

3. Experience

A formal education is not the only tool a translator or interpreter requires, they also need experience.

There are two basic forms of experience, ‘apprenticeship’ and ‘work’ experience.

Apprenticeship experience is a period of time devoted to acquiring education, knowledge and working experience in a field that interests the person, for instance, law, finance, business, technology, medicine, etc, but does not necessarily directly relate to language.

Later in life, they obtain a certification or complete a postgraduate course in translation or interpretation.

Work experience is when the individual after receiving their translation or interpretation credential(s), volunteers their services for non-profits, friends, family, works as an in-house translator and/or interpreter for a company, freelances for various clients.

Both types of experience entails a process that takes years, definitely not an overnight process.

4. Knowledge

Every translator and interpreter brings with them something priceless and unique: themselves.

Each individual presents a vast collection of personal histories, background, culture, education and knowledge.

Each individual possesses unique life experiences, job experiences and special skills.

A word to a translator or interpreter is more than just a word, it’s part of a context, it’s a number of possibilities, of meanings, of combinations, of experiences, etc.

Translators and interpreter use their vast number of resources, knowledge of language, culture and experience in order to give the best rendition for every word and phrase, while keeping then in proper context and register.

5. Expertise & Specialization

The list of areas of expertise and specializations is big and each genre has its own sub-genres and those have sub-genres and so on.

Professional translators and interpreters specialize and become experts in a handful of topics.

Each professional translator and interpreter takes into account their education, experience, and knowledge to focus their services in certain areas of expertise and specializations.

For instance, in school they may have majored in law, have experience working with lawyers and knowledge of the legal system, so they decide to focus on criminal, family and immigration law.

Every translator and interpreter must know, understand, memorize and specialize vocabulary in at least two languages.

Taking in account that a common individual might not even use a specific specialized vocabulary in their everyday speech.

So now we are ready for the good stuff, the actual act of translating and interpreting, or as I like to call it ‘the art of translating and interpreting’.

6. The Art of Translating & Interpreting

Translating.  Translators work with the written word.

A translators must be very skilled because a single source text has dozens, hundreds perhaps thousands of possible translations.

Each translation is a long, complex and even profound series of choices which a translator must make.

Not just how to render a given word, but most often a phrase or paragraph.

Localization is customizing the translation to a particular market, geographic region and/or culture.

All professional translations are publish ready.

Interpreting.  Interpreters work with the spoken word.

Simultaneous interpreting is interpreting in “real-time” while others are speaking.

This is an extremely complex mental tax, requiring concentration far beyond what most people usually experience.

Just to give you an idea of the difficulty, interpreting has been compared to working as an air traffic controller.

Consecutive interpreting is interpreting when the speaker talks clearly and pauses every phrase or so to give the interpreter time to render the interpretation.

The interpreter listens to a segment of speech, the speaker stops to allow the interpreter to speak and so on.

Interpreters sometimes take short notes to help recall key words or numbers.

7. Professionalism & Reputation

The best professional translators and interpreters follow, practice and uphold a strict code of ethics.

Translators and interpreters always strive to convey meaning faithfully, accurately and impartially.

They promise to keep and protect privileged and confidential information always.

When professionalism is upheld at a constant level the translator and/or interpreter builds a great reputation.

8. Quality & Value

Professional translators and interpreters strive for the best translation or interpretation.

A translator’s and interpreter’s unique choice of words is a result of the all the factors we have examined above.

Quality translations and interpretations come from great professional translators and interpreter who are highly skilled qualified experts.

That being said, they don’t work for free, common sense, you get what you pay for.

9. Operational Costs

As with all businesses there are costs of doing business.  The freelance translator and interpreter are business owners, they pay for expenses just like any business.

Business expenses may include marketing, technology, software, Internet, telephone, office space, supplies, equipment, taxes, insurance, travel, social security, etc.

10. Job Details

Last but not least, the job details.

Many of you might have thought this would be the first and only deciding factor to determine language costs but as you have learned, this is actually the last piece of the puzzle.

Below are just a few details the interpreter and translator will take into account before considering and quoting a job.

For Translation.

Will the job be quoted by the word, line, page, hour or project?

How many words or pages is the document?

What is the subject matter?

How much research is required?

Does the client have any reference materials or existing translations?

In what format is the document?

Are there many graphs and/or tables?

Does the translator need to convert numbers and dates?

In what format is the translation needed?

Will the translator need to edit or proofread?

What is the deadline?

Is this a rush job?

Will the client makes after the translation is finished?

For Interpretation.

Is the job in town or out of town?

How many hours or days will it last?

Will the interpretation be simultaneous, consecutive or both?

Will the interpretation be face-to-face, inside a booth, via phone or skype?

Will equipment be provided or will the interpreter need to lease any equipment?

How much in driving time, mileage and/or parking fees?

What is the subject matter?

Will the interpreter need time to prepare?

Will the client provide a partner interpreter if it was needed?

When the client cancels, what is the interpreter’s cancellation fee?

What is the interpreter’s overtime fee?

What other expenses will there be, like meals, hotel, airfare, transportation, parking etc?

As you can see translating and interpreting are not easy tasks.  

Excellent and professional translation and interpretation services come at a cost.

Translation and interpretation when done correctly, is an art.

They require high levels of intellect, experience, and skill.

Great professional translators and interpreters provide you something truly priceless: clear and smooth communication.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing my posts. 

Feel free to connect or email me, Carmen Arismendy.  I’m a professional Spanish interpreter-translator and founder of eLingual.Net.  I started the eLingual Network because I could not find a fair, no middleman, no job bidding, ethical and transparent meeting place for translators, interpreters and clients online.  The website is in beta phase and by no means perfect but it’s a step in the right direction.

eLingual.Net’s mission is to spread happiness worldwide through happy translators, interpreters and clients.

For the professional translator and interpreter, this means no middleman, no job bidding, the freedom of setting their own fees, having control over their services, and who they choose to work with.

For the clients, this means working directly with  ethical and professional translators and interpreters committed to quality and value.

Join our happy community, let’s work together!

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Carmen Arismendy

About Carmen Arismendy

Entrepreneur. SP-EN interpreter-translator. Founder of www.elingual.net, a fair, no middleman, no job bidding, ethical and transparent meeting place for translators, interpreters and clients.

7 thoughts on “10 Factors That Help Determine Translation And Interpretation Fees So you think: "Translating and interpreting is easy, anyone who knows two languages can do it. It should be really cheap, right?" Wrong.

  1. Great post, Carmen!
    I think many translators forget to factor in the cost of operation, so thanks for bringing that up. One other important thing one has to bear in mind – taxes. You have to remember at all times that you own money to the government. In Canada, it’s about 30% of your income, for example.
    So if you want to run a successful translation business you have to factor those expenses in and adjust your prices accordingly.

  2. Thank Carmen, I would highlight that a professional translator specialises in one or two macroareas, not more. He/she becomes an “expert” in specific subjects, cannot translate everyting just because he/she knows the language and translation techniques 🙂

  3. Item #2 is highly questionable. There are very fine translators who lack academic background in Translation, certificates, who loathe membership to associations, but, nevertheless, have what tons of such mega-educated, certified and “membershipped” translators most often than not lack: INBORN TALENT and LIFELONG EFFORT.

    I can tell that from my 20-year experience as a professional translator in Brazil: every single semester, young, high-school graduates flock by the thousands to universities and colleges that offer degrees in Translation, with little more to their name than the indigent foreign language skills acquired in their K12 years (or in money-grab FL schools, for that matter – “one at every corner in town to better serve you suckers”).

    These wannabees enter an undergrad Translation course sincerely thinking it’s a “little-more-expensive-and-longer FL course – down here, only English and Spanish). Even worse, they can barely write a cohesive 500-word essay about ANY subject, even passing the college admission tests (ENEM, FUVEST, you name it) with “flying colors” in the mandatory essay (i.e., the quality of review and scoring by the official bodies are HIGHLY questionable, too.)

    Translating means, down to nitty-gritty, being able to write REALLY well and being fond of READING (i.e., imitating the style of fine authors), which is a lifelong effort, and many young students think “Okee-dokee, my Portuguese (or FL) teacher gives me writing assignments every now and then, I return the best s*** I can, and, if I get a B- or C, that’s fine.” They actually hate reading and writing , or keep these activities to the bare minimum, just to barely “make the cut”. “Oh, but I love translating song lyrics, maybe someday I can be a fine translator”. That’s the spirit.

    Fast-forward, four (or so) years later: these intellectual indigents get their degrees in Translation & Interpreting, brandishing their fresh diplomas in the faces of the poor no-grads, no-certs, and making a hell of an impression on translation agency owners or direct clients, hoping to get their first professional translation jobs.

    Then, when they come across a seasoned no-grad, no-cert, but highly-talented translator, able to deliver nearly perfect translations on any imaginable subject, they sneer at him, often blinding him with science, dropping names of high-profile professors, theorists, linguists, quoting Saussure and Chomsky right and left, and invoking translation theory principles, all to discredit and disqualify the battle-hardened translator.

    Sad, but true, fellas!

    1. Hey Andy!
      I think it all boils down to the quality of your work. I personally believe that education is essential in any profession as it builds the foundation, however your talent and hard work will be the bearing walls of your business. Without it you have nothing but a shiny certificate that doesn’t mean a thing.

      Granted, the fake it till you make it approach can take you far in our day and age, and it’s sad, however I think there’s a sea of clients who can see right past through this glitter and understand the real value that highly-skilled translators offer.

      I think we should focus more on the quality of our work and honing of our craft and figure out ways to deliver our message to the customers. But this is probably a topic for a different discussion (could be a good idea to write an article about it on The Open Mic) 😉

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