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Appendix A (Estimating Translation Costs)

It is important to plan in sufficient funding for translation purposes. Translation costs can be estimated in a number of ways. Please note that in general, the cost structure greatly depends on the language pair and on regional habits. Therefore, we recommend to always check within your local or regional network for usual translators’ rates.

Translators may be paid by time spent (hourly) or by the standard page, standard line, or word.

Elements that may add to the final translator’s cost are:

  • Translator’s experience and training;
  • Deadline (translators may add a supplement for short-term delivery or weekend work);
  • Use of technical software/translation tools;
  • Payment decided for any repeated text segments;
  • Need to accommodate regional variants of a language;
  • Difficulty of specific project, for instance due to highly technical terminology used;
  • Additional services required beyond translation;
  • Training and briefing; and
  • Other elements, such as the number of questions in an instrument.

Apart from the extent of work to be translated, numerous factors affect what a translation will cost. Table 1 outlines additional factors relevant for estimating costs for survey translations.

Table 1: Factors affecting translation costing.

Factor Comment
Availability of translators for the languages involved It is easier in given locations to find good translators for some language pairs than for others. The more difficult it is in a location to find someone for the language pair, the more expensive the payment expectations may be. The costs for translations for English into Korean or Vietnamese, for example, are likely to vary depending on where translators are sought. Some language pairs may be expensive in almost every location. It could always be difficult to find translators for a translation from Hungarian into Maltese, for example, or certainly more difficult than a translation from English into Spanish, at least. Hungarian and Maltese are spoken by relatively small numbers, and the likelihood of finding good translators diminishes accordingly.
Local standards of pay These can vary greatly around the world. Some organizations aim for the same going rate (however decided) for all locations; the promise of a steady flow of work to translators might help an organization implement this model. Other organizations and projects try to optimize across locations, paying more in one location than in another and adjusting their decided going rate (however determined) on the basis of local rates of payment and local expectations.
A need to accommodate regional variants of a language If a project needs to capture suitability for multiple regional variants of a language (Spanish, French, or German, for example), this will require more translators or language advisors to be involved than would otherwise be the case. Shared language harmonization meetings and their outputs (see Translation: Shared Language Harmonization) may need such additional translator input, even if not always in person.
Difficulty of text type Conventionally, some text types (specialized fields with special jargon) can command a higher rate of pay than do more everyday or accessible text types. Even if the rate were the same, more difficult texts could take longer and increase costs in that way, if paid by hours spent.

Benchmarks of difficulty are usually related to specialized vocabulary, complex or difficult content, and possible specialized terminologies. In surveys, the quality of source questions, target population needs, cultural distance from that assumed by the source questionnaire, or variation in questionnaire complexity are examples of factors which can add to difficulty. However, in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure, many questionnaires would not be considered to be difficult texts. What makes questionnaires difficult to translate is less the complexity of language used than the measurement goals pursued and the absolute need to consider these, especially with regard to obtaining the highest possible level of comparability in the final 3MC surveys.

Translation mode Oral forms of translation (on-sight oral and interpreted) may command higher rates of pay than do written texts. Here, prices will probably in all cases be hour-based. Due to the difficulty of standardizing the interviewing process, oral translation is not generally recommended.
Experience of translators and others involved Experience may impact speed of translation and deliberations, as well as the quality of decisions. This will affect total time needed. On the other hand, more experienced translators would normally calculate a higher hourly rate than novices or inexperienced translators (as the quality of their work is normally priced in their standard rates).
Payment decided for any repeated text segments If a survey instrument has many repeated sections (e.g., question introductions always framed similarly or identically, frequent repetition of response scales), this should be calculated in to reduce costs. On the other hand, as stated above: repetitions in the source text do not automatically have to be repeated in translations too (see e.g. consistency issues). Therefore, each repeated text bit needs careful consideration; so in the end, only very few repetitions in the source text merit cost reductionand this needs to be carefully decided at project-level with experienced staff having in-depth linguistic skills in both the source and the target languages.
Time available for the translation Express delivery or 'rush jobs' normally cost more than does work submitted so as to allow the translator to fit it into their normal work schedule.
Additional services required beyond translation Translators can serve multiple functions beyond producing translations, either subsequent or parallel to translation. Apart from involvement in a team translation procedure (see Translation: Overview), for instance, proofreading, copyediting, and questionnaire formatting in the translated language are all tasks translators are sometimes asked to undertake. These would add to the payments made to translators, possibly also booked as 'translation costs.' Additionally, commenting or providing information on cultural issues may also involve research work by the translator, which can add more costs in addition to the translation cost.
Time and budget for translation assessment Assessment of the translation itself and its quality can be implemented in a variety of ways, which have associated effects on both scheduling and budgets.
Training and briefing on special features of the translation Time needed for training and briefing translators will add to the final costs, but will improve the quality, and potentially speed, of the translation process.
Any software expenses Software or license purchases may also be booked as part of the translation budget. This may either be paid indirectly, via the translators, or directly to the software providing firms.