How to interpret a translation quote

Translation is an organic process – and this reflects on many aspects of a professional service in this field, not least of which is preparing and evaluating a quote for a professional translation. There can be no really formal and easily explainable method to quote all translation in the same way, and so a good deal of interpretation is needed to assign the correct weight and value to the different quotes you can receive as a customer. While going for the cheapest supplier is often not a good choice, and this is particularly true in the case of a translation, the actual risk is misunderstanding a quote and paying more than one thinks.

For one thing, a good quote will have to take it into account whether the required work is simply translation of content or other additional services are required. If a document needs to be reformatted after translation through desktop publishing software, or in the case of software interfaces needing full localization, costs will have to cover far more than the initial translation of a text.

Secondly, the number of languages that the original text needs to be translated to is a huge factor in determining costs. When working on the same text and translating to several languages, not only is general supervision required to ensure uniform final results, but several different professionals must be called in to manage the separate projects, and this easily brings costs up quite quickly.

It is true, on the other hand, that some of the items involved in translation are easier to quote: word count, while by no means sufficient (the type of content can make a huge difference) is surely a significant factor, as is page count when having to reformat a document in a desktop publishing software. Unfortunately, these factors aren’t enough to compile a professional quote, and so a customer has to understand the actual services being offered to make a meaningful evaluation.

One such example has to do with the use of Translation Memory technologies. Freelance translators often don’t have the means to employ this kind of tool, which has a cost in and of itself, but several agencies make vast use of it, and while this may apparently raise the quote it also sets the ground for less expensive future work. A translation memory tool allows to memorize and re-use the translations employed for a specific, repeated phrase or set of phrases (think of how often this happens, for example, in technical content, or with software localization), effectively reducing word count for present and future work.

Furthemore, the way work size is evaluated is meaningful. Page count appears easiest, but is often unreliable, because pages can have vastly different amounts of content; on the other hand, word count is often more reliable, but in the case of Asian languages many professionals prefer to quote on character count, which is a more precise measurement of the amount of work to be done.

Additional services like revision – having a second professional review the work of the first – also contribute to raise a quote, but they also drastically increase the quality of the finished work; many agencies include this by default, which can lead to higher base quotes which a customer must be able to interpret. And finally, the languages involved are always a factor; some languages have a smaller number of capable translators, and this of course leads to higher costs.

All in all, the best way to evaluate different translation quotes is asking for a specific breakdown of methods and technologies being employed. The cheapest price might prove to be the costlier choice in the long run.

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