• Rick White - Director of Client Services

Apples and Oranges: Comparing Translation Quotes

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Trying to compare quotes from different translation vendors can be like comparing apples and oranges. It’s important to know that you’re getting the most for your money, but when everyone sets up their quotes differently, how can you know exactly what you’re paying for? The good news is that although they’re packaged differently, most translation quotes contain the same basic information.

The Per-Word Rate

The most basic thing that you will pay for is the actual translation. The majority of the time, this is set up as a rate per word. The per word rate will vary based on the language. This is due to the market conditions of the language itself. For instance, Chinese and Latin American Spanish tend to be less expensive due to the availability of translators for those languages and the economies of the countries where those translators are located. However, Scandinavian languages tend to be more expensive by comparison since those languages are harder to source, and the cost of living in those countries tends to be higher. The same language might vary between vendors depending on their resources. For example, if a vendor just happens to have several German translators on their staff, they will not need to outsource this translation, so it will likely cost less.

It’s also important to understand what is included in your per-word rate. Is it the rate for a single translator to translate the text? Or does it include both a translation and edit step by two separate linguists? Understanding what the per-word rate covers will go a long way toward helping you make an educated comparison. Also note that your translation fee may not always be a per-word rate. In certain instances, your vendor may charge an hourly or minimum fee for translation. For example, if your translation project is less than 500 words or so, many vendors will charge a flat, minimum fee to fairly compensate their linguists for their time as well as to cover the administrative costs incurred.

Hourly Rates per Language

Beyond translation, there may be some language-specific tasks that the project requires. Will a linguist be testing the finished version of your survey, or doing a careful validation of your translated software? In that case, your quote will probably include an hourly rate for the task. Much like your per-word rate, this hourly rate will likely vary based on language.


Depending on the vendor, this cost may be packaged as an hourly fee or charge per page. It may be called “Formatting,” “Desktop Publishing,” “DTP,” or another name, but the process is likely to be the same. Your vendor may have an internal team or outsource this step. Someone familiar with multilingual desktop publishing will go through and finalize your document to make sure that all the formatting is correct, the line breaks make sense, and the translated layout looks just as good as the original language. This may not be included for every project, but if you want files back that are publishing-ready, it will probably be necessary.

Project Management

It is most common for Project Management to be charged as either a percent of the total project cost or as an hourly fee. Sometimes, Project Management will not appear as a separate line item but may instead be packaged into the per-word rate. However, Project Management is extremely important and always needs to be covered, whether or not you see it listed on the quote explicitly. Your Project Manager does a lot of important tasks, and without them your translation project would not happen. They receive your translation requests, analyze your source files, prepare your quotes, hand-select the best linguists for the job, plan the project timelines, and sometimes (hopefully not often) perform damage control when something goes wrong.

Translation Memory Discounts

Everyone loves a discount! But how do you know if you’re getting one when sometimes TM can be so hard to understand? How different vendors provide discounts for Translation Memory can vary depending on the matrix that they use, or how much of a discount they give for each type of match. However, what also varies greatly is just how those savings are communicated on your quote.

If you notice that your per-word rate varies between projects for the same language, but you don’t see a Translation Memory discount on your quotes, it could be that your vendor is discounting your per-word rate based on the TM savings of each project. If your quoted word count is lower than you anticipated, but TM savings are absent, then they’ve probably expressed the discount by reducing the total word count. In other cases, you may see Translation Memory listed as a percentage discount off of the total translation cost.