a globe in front of a wall with post its with foreign words written on them

Is your business moving into new markets around the world? Are you localizing your website and content so that it performs better with audiences in other countries? For your translated content to resonate and connect with your new audience, quality is key. So how much should you expect to pay for your translation project? And what if your content is more complex than cut-and-dry, low reading level material?

In this article, we’ll discuss what translators can do and give you a framework for determining which level of translator you’ll need and how you can estimate your budget.

What Does a Translator Do?

A translator does much more than translate a sentence from one language to another—which is why it’s often necessary to engage a human translator despite advances in automation and natural language processing. It’s rare that a translated document, webpage or even social media post ends up as a mirror image of its source. That’s because more goes into translating than trading out one word for another. These skilled linguists creatively adapt concepts, phrases, and tone, and can make recommendations about layouts, design choices, related keywords, or edits for clarity and relevance.

Translators are valuable for a wide range of projects, which can require them to have expertise with more complex topics, regulated industries such as healthcare, law, and finance, and complex technical topics like manufacturing and software development. Often, these types of translations can be so technical that even a professor in that language would be unable to successfully translate the material. It’s all about marrying fluency in a language with fluency in a particular field.

Translators can be critical investments for brands expanding into foreign markets. The skill and expertise of the individual you engage have the potential to directly impact your success. So what can you expect to pay for your project? Let’s break down some key factors to help you more accurately estimate the cost to engage a freelance translator for your business.

Cost Factor #1: Scope of your translation project

The first contributing factor to the cost of your translation project will be the volume of text you’re having translated. Translation takes time and patience to get right, so if you’re tackling a massive website, a large inventory of product descriptions, or hundreds of articles for a content marketing campaign, be prepared to spend more.

Even if a translation project is seemingly very straightforward—without technical terminology or tricky tone considerations—high-volume projects should be budgeted for and scheduled to allow for extra proofing time.

Tip: With large projects, it helps to go in with a plan and a structure for the translator to label, organize, and submit translated content. It can be arduous to sift through pages of copy, determine text types (headers, footnotes, technical notes, etc.) then reproduce a translated, mirror-image document. Spend the time and effort to create a method or system for the translator to submit the deliverables, so you’re not sorting through them on the back end.

Cost Factor #2: Target language

It’s no secret that some languages are more widely spoken and understood than others. The most widely spoken languages from some of the largest economies include German, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Spanish, and Portuguese, to name a few. As a result, there are far more available translators for these languages, and also more accessibility to accurate machine translation which can in some cases preclude the need for a translator. This all leads to widespread availability and more competitive rates.

However, if you need a translation of a rare or particularly difficult language, you might see translators charge higher rates for that specialized expertise. Native language speakers from smaller countries are harder to come by, and smaller populations naturally lead to fewer translators. Because there’s less competition and more demand, these professionals can often charge a higher rate. Not to mention, these languages are also more difficult to apply any level of machine translation to, so almost always require a human.

Cost Factor #3: Specialized experience and expertise required

More than any other factor, the skill and experience level your content requires will determine rate. Even for a skilled native speaker, translating highly technical content can be uniquely challenging and require vocabulary specifically related to that subject matter. Expect to budget more for translation of content that’s related to software development, manufacturing, healthcare, legal, or financial industries. In some cases, you might even find a bilingual freelancer whose primary profession is within that industry but translates content related to that field as a side business.

Similarly, if you need other experience to supplement your translation project—say, SEO and keyword experience to help you optimize a localized website—that will potentially incur more cost. If you are localizing software or APIs, your translator will need to know how developers interact with your UI so they’re translating the appropriate instructions.

Typical Rates Charged by Translators*

Type of Translator Average Hourly Rate
Popular Languages (Chinese, Spanish, German, Japanese, etc.) $15-30+
Niche Languages (Swedish, Korean, Finnish, etc.) $20-35+
Specialists (Marketing, Copywriting, Technical, Industry)/More Experienced $35-45+

*Reflect rates charged by freelancers on Upwork in North America with over 1,000 hours and 90% success rate.