While some translators or translation agencies may charge per line, per standard page of text, or even per hour, the most common method for determining translation rates is to calculate them on a per-word basis.
Translators work from the original or source text to create the translation, also known as the target text. Translators use the word count function of their word-processing software or translation tool to determine the number of words contained within the source text. Translators then generally charge x number of cents per source word, taking into account the subject matter and technical complexity of the text. When it’s not possible to determine the word count using software (for example, in the case of some PDF files or hard-copy documents such as faxes), translators or agencies will typically use the target word count instead.
Charging per source word instead of per target word offers an advantage in that the translator can provide a firm price estimate to the client in advance of the translation. Furthermore, in the case of translations from English to Spanish, rates based on the source word count will result in a lower cost for the client since, as a result of text expansion, the target text in Spanish will contain more words than the English source text.
If the client requests special formatting and/or desktop publishing services, these fees are generally charged separately from the translation itself.
Some clients inquire as to whether translators charge for seemingly insignificant words such as “the” and “a.” Yes, these words count too. It’s important to recognize that translators translate meaning, not individual words. Even small words like these necessitate a great deal of thought because they must be considered within the overall context of the phrase.
In the case of technical documents or other texts suited to translation with translation memory (TM) tools, an agency or translator that utilizes this software may be able to offer a discount for repeated segments of text within a document.