Purchasing translations can be confusing and sometimes intimidating. There are many suppliers out there and it can seem like a whole language of its own to decode the quotation. In this blog post, we aim to give you an overview of the key considerations and to help you make an informed choice of supplier.

How is it priced? Source/Target? Word/Line?

When it comes to pricing for any service, the key is transparency. Everyone involved in the transaction wants to be sure that they know what work is required and how much money will be charged. For this reason, the majority of translation services are based on an analysis of the source text.

For Western languages, analysis is usually carried out per source word, though other units include per line or per page. It’s easy to see why – words are easily countable, so both purchaser and supplier can be certain what the cost of a project will be with no nasty surprises. For Asian languages, characters is the preferred unit. One glyph in Chinese is equivalent to a word (roughly), so again transparency of effort vs. cost can be achieved.

>> Check out this article for a more in-depth look at per word prices.

An alternative to source analysis is the target count price. The basic principle behind this pricing strategy is based on the “work” done by a translator, and again it provides an unequivocal measure of work completed, leading to a transparent cost. However, when translating from one language to another, the amount of words used will change, sometimes dramatically. French to English word counts often decrease; whereas German to English increases in word count. This adds complexity to a quotation – target analysis quotations can only ever give you an estimate of how many words might be in your target text so the final price will be different.

When comparing quotations that use these different means of analyses, it is worth bearing in mind that rates are usually adapted to account for word count increases or decreases, thus leading to a roughly equivalent end cost. To give an example: For a German source text, a translator may have to type significantly more words when translating to English, and a target word price will be adapted accordingly.

The main situation where a target count is agreed upon is in the case of a non-editable file. If the only copy of a source text is a PDF scan, it is a long and arduous task to count each word. Yet if a target price is agreed upon, billing is based upon the end result and both client and translator can be sure of a transparent price.

Fuzzy matches? Internal Repetitions? Pretranslated words?

Now we start to arrive at the jargon part of your quotation! What do these even mean?!

Fuzzy matches are suggested by the translation memory tool using a fuzzy logic algorithm. It compares new sentences with existing translations to give a percentage similarity. Companies use bands of percentage similarities to offer discounts on these translations. It is important to note that fuzzy matches are calculated per sentence, and the fuzzy match count is achieved by counting the words within each fuzzy sentence.

Internal repetitions are the subsequent occurrence of a sentence within your document. The first time a sentence appears it is considered as a new or fuzzy sentence, but for second (third, fourth, etc.) occurrences, the sentence is considered an internal repetition and is offered at a low rate. Although the sentence is identical, we still recommend that these are checked each time in context. Automatically confirming internal repetitions could lead to mistranslations in the case of single words that can be translated multiple ways depending on their context, or even sentences that may need to have the grammar adapted based on the content of the previous sentence. In English, this can be difficult for us to wrap our heads around, but many European languages use different versions of the word “it”, depending on the gender of the noun that is being replaced. Hence, the repeated sentence may actually need to be different in context.

The concept of pretranslated words is perhaps simpler to understand, as they are sentences where the entire translation already exists in the translation reference pool. Sometimes it is recommended that these are checked in context, but they can often be accepted without change and therefore without charge. It is also important to note however, that number-only segments are also considered as a pretranslated segments. We recommend that these are always checked. Number formats often differ between languages, such as the use of a decimal comma or dot, and the use or omission of a thousand delimiter.

Additional costs

Occasionally a supplier will add additional costs to their quotation. So, what are they and why might they be added?

DTP costs can sometimes be added to a project when a non-editable file is provided, such as a PDF. DTP costs are usually charged per hour or per page to recreate the layout of a source file. In certain circumstances a full source text recreation is not necessary, such as in the case of a document where translation is needed for understanding only. In this case, the supplier might offer you a text-only translation and will omit the additional DTP cost.

In some cases, post-translation amends may be charged at an hourly rate. Where a supplier has made an error, these should not be charged back to the customer, but if preferential changes are made that require files to be updated, these costs are sometimes passed back to the customer.

Terminology management?

Terminology management refers to the creation and maintenance of terminology lists for a client’s documents. Use of a terminology list when translating has several benefits, including consistency and accuracy. Modern translation tools contain a function for checking translations against a terminology list, thereby guarding against mistranslations or inconsistent translations. They also allow a customer to specify preferred or disallowed terms, enabling you to maintain a brand voice or writing style.

Terminology management can be carried out by the translation supplier, the customer or a combination of both and can sometimes incur charges.

Reference management?

Reference management refers to the creation and maintenance of reference material for a client’s documents. Translation memory tools used previously translated documents as reference material that provides the basis for fuzzy match translations. Management of reference material is usually carried out by the translation supplier as part of their standard service and would include storage and organisation, as well as updating files in the case of amends or terminology changes.

What do you need to provide?

A translation company will ask you for an editable version of your file. As we saw above, this allows them to carry out a source analysis for their quotation. An additional benefit of starting with an editable file is that Translation Memory software can be used.

Translation memory tools bring many advantages in improving the quality and reducing cost, as we will see in the next section.

TM or MT?

The choice between Translation Memory and Machine Translation is something that we look at in other blog posts, but we can give you the basic overview here.

A Translation Memory tool uses reference material to provide similar translations, but the main work of translation is carried out by a human.

A Machine Translation tool, also known as an MT engine, uses existing translations and artificial intelligence algorithms to translate the entire text. These translations can then be “post-edited” by a human to fix any errors made by the MT.

Relevant standards?

The main applicable standard when purchasing translation services is ISO 17100:2015. It sets out requirements for core processes, resources and supplier qualifications necessary for the delivery of a quality translation service that meets applicable specifications. In a nutshell, the ISO standard demands that translations are carried out by a qualified native speaker with relevant experience, and that they are reviewed by a qualified native speaker with relevant experience.


The ISO standard requires all translators to be qualified – but what does that really mean? What do they need to be qualified in? In order to be ISO compliant, a translator needs to have a higher education qualification in a language or in translation, and in some cases some relevant work experience. Translators who only have a BA (or equivalent) degree in Translation or their source language must also have 3 years’ experience in the industry in order to be considered as compliant with the standard.

Industry bodies?

There are two main industry bodies for translation in the UK, the ITI (Institute for Translation and Interpreting) and the CIOL (Chartered Institute of Linguists).

The ITI is a UK-based, independent professional membership association for practising translators, interpreters and language services businesses. It aims to promote high standards in the language services industry with the ITI Code of Professional Conduct, and its ITI Qualified Membership status.

The CIOL is also UK-based, and is a professional membership body for language practitioners, therefore has a wider focus than the ITI. It offers professional qualifications through its Diploma in Translation and several Diplomas in Interpreting.

Certified translation?

Certified translations can appear a minefield, and we will be looking at these in more depth in a future blog post. A certified translation can be needed where a document is required by an official body, such as a birth certificate being required during a passport application. It can also be needed for translations of company accounts or legal documents to verify that the translation is accurate and no information has been deliberately or accidentally changed during translation.

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager