Why Does My Translation Cost So Much?

Business, Language

When hiring a translation company to handle a big project, many end up with a bit of “sticker shock.” Indeed, there is a lot of variation when it comes to pricing translation services and if you haven’t done your research, it’s easy to watch those dollar signs add up quickly.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the major components that affect a translation project’s pricing structure and final cost. Understanding these components and variables will help you find the language service provider that suits your needs.

First, let’s examine the most obvious factors that impact the cost of your translation. 

Document Word Count

This is really the main factor that will determine the cost of your translation. Word count is what we use to estimate the amount of time it will take one of our translators to turnaround your project. So purely in terms of the amount of time it takes, clearly translating a 1,000-word document will cost less than translating a 25,000-word document. Word count gives us an accurate assessment of the true volume of translation to be done.

Keep in mind that pricing differences based on word count allow us to guarantee that the quality of translation you receive is at the highest possible level. Whether your project is smaller or larger than our average project, all of our customers can expect the same level of service. You never want your translator rushing through a translation. We ensure our translators are paid fairly so they continue working with our clients and deliver high quality results.

Formatting Requirements

Formatting is another factor that can affect the amount of time your translator needs to spend with your document. Many documents contain photographs, graphs, tables, and other visuals. Part of a translator’s job is to translate any text within these images and to make sure these elements are in a place that makes sense to readers with the flow of the rest of the document.

If a document requires additional formatting (e.g., our desktop publishing experts need to spend a significant amount of time on page design), this can increase the price of your document translation. Again, anything that adds to the time people need to spend interacting with your document will add to the cost.

Language Needed and Availability of Translators

It is easy to find translators for many language pairings. For instance, Spanish to English and English to Spanish are easy to find, especially in the U.S. It is not so easy with other language pairs, like German to Korean and Korean to German.

Here are some factors that come into play:

  • Location of the translation company.
  • If it is difficult to find a translator for a certain language pair, it’s likely that the fees will be higher than for more common language pairs.
  • Document translation companies in some countries may charge less because they can pay their freelance translators less. Be careful, though, using a foreign company may not save you money in the long run because if the company is not using native speakers of the target language, you may end up having to pay a premium to have the translation redone later.
  • Sociocultural relationships between countries. For example, American interest in learning Russian has declined significantly since the Cold War. As a result, it’s harder to find a navtive speaker of English who can translate Russian. On the other hand, because of an influx of Western goods and entertainment into Russia, locating a native Russian speaker who can translate English is much easier these days.
  • The total number of people worldwide who are fluent in the language. Since more than 75 million people globally are native French speakers, it’s easy to find a French translator. For a rarer language, such as Xhosa or Karen (spoken by 7 million people in South-eastern Myanmar and Western Thailand). This is a simple supply and demand issue. Those who can translate rarer languages can charge a premium price for their services.

The Business Model

Language service providers use a wide range of business models. Some rely on individual freelancers, others keep translators on staff as regular employees, still others subcontract to other translation agencies. Obviously, the greater number of people and agencies that touch your translation, the more expensive the bottomline will be for you. So if you get an unreasonable quote (yes, you should ask for a quote ahead of time), you may want to ask about their business model.

Again, keep in mind that if you have a rare language pair, subcontracting may be your only option and you’ll likely need to pay a higher price. However, if you are looking for a language pair that is relatively easy to find, any extra effort you put forth to compare prices and processes will show in the final price.

You will, of course, want to do your research when looking for a language services partner. Here are some factors to consider and questions to ask before you decide who to work with:

  • What do you want your translation agency to handle for you (e.g., documents, phone interpretation)?
  • How much experience does the staff have?
  • How qualified are the translators?
  • What is the turnaround time?
  • What additional services does the translation company provide which you may need in the future?
  • Can you talk to their references?


Another cost that remains mostly hidden from clients is overhead. This term describes the costs associated with running the business, such as the work of the project manager, quality assurance, software development and licensing fees, and various office building and utility fees. Every business passes on some of its overhead costs to clients. At the very least, if your language service provider can’t keep the lights on, they won’t be much good to anyone. So it makes sense that companies with higher operating costs must charge more for their translation services.

At DTS Language Services, Inc., we work hard to keep overhead costs low. We operate out of a small office in Durham and most of our translators and project managers work from home, which saves us a lot of money here. We are proud to pass these savings onto our clients.

Additional Services: Great translation agencies aren’t only in the business of selling you translations. They’re also your language partners.

We follow a standard process with every translation that includes:

  • A second translator to revise the original document translation and check for any errors
  • A proofreader to review your document for grammatical, formatting, punctuation, and syntax, 
  • A project manager to do the final review and ensure the final product meets all the deliverables and client expectations.

The DTS Difference

We offer additional services beyond this standard process with our clients as well. Are you looking for someone to consult with you on taking your company global? Are you unsure whether translation or localization is what you need? Are you in need of a liaison between a foreign office and your U.S. team? Our industry experts can assist you with answering all of your questions. We’re more than a translation company, we’re your partner in delivering language services.

Finally, keep in mind that if you do your research and you run into “sticker shock,” you may not have found the right language service provider. Trust your gut when it comes to pricing. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as charging a premium price for low quality translations. So, as the saying goes, “buyer beware” and do your homework to ensure you get the best value.

Are you ready for a quote? Contact DTS Language Services, Inc. and fill out our document translation request form. One of our staff will be happy to evaluate your next translation project and help you avoid any unnecessary fees.

10 Tips For Your Next Translation Project (Video)

10 Tips For Your Next Translation Project (Video)

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