Translation prices. Per word or per hour?

In the translation and localization industry, translation prices are typically quoted on a per-word basis. So if a document or file has one thousand words, we multiply the number of words by the price per word to get the translation price per 1000 words. It is a simple pricing system which seems to work. Translators and LSPs are happy with this pricing scheme (as long as they are getting their price). Buyers are generally also happy with the translation price per word system since it gives them good control over expenses. A fixed price per project can be easily negotiated with no hidden costs or cost overruns.

Jochen Hummer, Inventor of Trados


This reality has prevailed for as long as I am in the business. But a few weeks ago I saw this tweet that proposed changing the basis for translation prices to  a per-hour basis. This proposal came from none other than the inventor of SDL Trados, Jochen Hummel.

As anyone who uses Trados or any other TM software knows, the software counts the number of words in a file and classifies each text segment as a match/repetition, fuzzy match or no match. This word count is usually the basis for any price negotiation in the localization industry.

Why the need for change? PE(N)MT!

There is a ancient proverb that goes like this: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So why would a man who bears major responsibility for the cost structure in today’s translation industry push for such a dramatic shift?

I put this and other questions to Mr. Hummel and this was his response:

I said this because of In this workflow words as a unit do not make sense anymore.

In the post that Mr. Hummel wrote last year in the Multilingual magazine blog, he says that human translators will become obsolete and all of the translation work will be done by NMT (Neural Machine Translation) systems. The only human input in the workflow, per Mr. Hummel, will be by multilingual subject matter experts who will review the MT. These people will be paid by the hour.

What do freelance translators think?

Today, many if not most translators refuse to review MT output, which means that a per-hour rate may not be feasible. Here is an excerpt of a chat that I recently had with one of our senior translators, which I find to be typical across the industry:

 … as I see it more and more only offer post-edit at xxx rates…. (I don’t work with them) .. and the majority are killing rates … albeit a minority then wants to pay for quality.

On the other hand, some translators are not opposed to move to a per-hour rate: many translators also provide interpretation services and are used to getting a per-hour rate. Interpretation better lends itself to a per-hour rate, as the work is done on-site either in a courtroom, a business office or in a conference setting; or on the phone, and that can also be easily measured in time-units. Indeed it is impossible to bill for interpretation work on any other basis but per-hour. Transcription services, the translation industry’s cousin, is also billed on a per-minute basis.

But even if we ignore the PEMT debate, most freelance translators prefer per-word pricing. They know that their expertise in the use of CAT tools and their control in the languages gives them an advantage-their throughput is high and they can therefore make much more per hour than any employer would agree to pay. The following tweet by Rodrigo Gonzalez supports this popular sentiment.

What do buyers think?

For the translation services buyer, going to a per-hour rate is also problematic: how can we know how much time is actually spent on the task? If it is a per-hour rate, does it include coffee breaks? Trips to the bathroom? I don’t mean to get petty here but if we move to a per-hour rate, these questions become relevant. Whereas in a per-word rate, these questions are irrelevant. Let the translator work IN the bathroom for all we care, as long as the work is delivered on time and at the expected level of quality.

Mr, Hummel seems to believe that the entire industry will move to a per-hour rate, and projects will be negotiated in hours instead of words. This will require a high degree of trust between LSPs and buyers, and will also require an accepted scale of how much work can be accomplished in an hour.

Has (N)MT reached human parity?

Mr. Hummel states that NMT has reached human parity. But does this mean that NMT is as good as human translation? Well not exactly. According to Mr. Hummel, in a workflow where every translation is reviewed by a second translator as standard, the source of the first draft is not critical. A reviewer can revise a MT output in the same way that they can review professional human translation. And the final result, after review, will be the same.

Mr. Hummel is not alone in this line of thought. I heard some similar arguments by One Hour Translation‘s Yaron Kaufman in the Slatorcon conference in Amsterdam in November. Yaron also said that NMT will become good enough to replace human translators. And that software will be used to automatically determine which sentences need post-editing. Those sentences, and only those sentences, will be send to a subject matter expert.

In that kind of workflow, it does make sense to pay the reviewer per hour. But is that workflow close to reality? Will translators need to find another line of work?

The current state of the industry

The NMT revolution/vision that Mr. Hummel and others are proposing is still very far from reality. Indeed for someone like myself, who is working in a small LSP, it seems like science fiction. Human translation is still MUCH better than any MT that I have seen. And this probably holds true for the vast majority of all translation tasks.

To the extent that it exists today, the NMT revolution can only be found in large projects of at least several hundreds of thousands of dollars. For projects of such a large scale, training the NMT engines to produce good translation quality can be done  cost-effectively, provided that the company/LSP has the resources to do this kind of work (which is far from being technologically simple).

And even in these scenarios, who is doing the post-editing work? It is hard to say. As we have already stated, most freelance translators do not want to do this work. Is it done by in-house staff? Perhaps, but can any company or LSP maintain multilingual subject-matter expert reviewers in all languages and in all fields? It sounds like the job that Noah had in getting all of the animals in the world into one Ark.

The NMT vision

The vision of people like Mr. Hummel and others is that what today is the privilege of a few large companies, will become available to more and more companies in the future. And cost barriers will be reduced. And the NMT servers will be cloud-based with easy access to all. So even small jobs will be run through the NMT and only require review by a subject-matter expert. Suitable online review tools will need to be developed for the subject-matter experts.

My own opinion?

I have been saying this for years: the NMT revolution may not happen in my own lifetime. It probably will happen in the future, but in how many years? Nobody can predict that.

The effect of the NMT revolution on translation prices

Whether we are talking per word, per page or per whatever: it seems obvious that translation prices are dropping. Is this because of the NMT revolution? That also seems obvious. As more progress is made in the field of NMT, and as the workflows based around PENMT improve, more downward pressure will be made on prices.

The effect of the NMT revolution on translation jobs

Professional translators will become more specialized and more skilled. They will need to become subject-matter experts in order to stay employed in the translation business. But that is not so far from the current state in practice: the good translators today usually stick to one domain (e.g., legal, medical, technical). Translators who lack industry and/or academic focus and depth will find it increasingly harder to get work in the future.

How to Translate MS Publisher Files

MS Publisher is a Desktop Publishing application by Microsoft. It is not one of the leading DTP programs, but since it is bundled with some versions of MS Office, many people may have it on their PC and not even know about it.

How to find out if your PC can run MS Publisher

If you have Publisher files on your PC and can see the PUB file icon in MS Explorer, then you can run MS Publisher.  Using Publisher isn’t rocket science, and if you know your way around any basic DTP app then you will be comfortable with editing PUB files. However, creating high-end publications would be outside the expertise of most people that are not professional graphic designers.

Translating MS Pub Files

One way of translating documents that were produced by MS Publisher is to translate the PDF file. This involves converting the PDF to MS Word and then translating it. However, anyone who has done this before knows that (a) converting PDFs to legible MS Word files can be challenging and time consuming; and (b) the conversion does not always yield good results and the page layout can get messed up.

Using a CAT tool in the process

The best way to translate any DTP file is by using a Computer-Aided-Translation (CAT) tool. CAT tools will parse the tags and internal markup of the file, and present the translatable text to the translator. Once the translator completes the work, the file can then be saved back to the native DTP file format. Some CAT tools like SDL Trados and Across, provide pre-bundled support for leading DTP files. For example, InDesign files can be translated by these CAT tools out-of-the-box. However, Publisher is nowhere near as popular as InDesign so most CAT tools do not come with built-in support for PUB files translation.

Introducing pub2xml

SDL, the maker of Trados which is the leading CAT tool on the market, has developed a free application called pub2xml which handles PUB file translation with relative ease. Here is the download link for pub2xml. The application is free, but you will need a working SDL Trados license to use pub2xml.

Here is a how-to video by SDL’s Paul Filkin who I have found to be not only extremely competent at his job, but a generous person and an overall great guy.

Once you have installed pub2xml, you will be able to export PUB files to a custom XML file format. You will need to import this XML format into Trados as a new file type. Once you do so, you will be able to open the XML files and translate them using the normal Trados workflow.

If you are a project manager, you can either send translators the XML file (and the associated file type import file); or you can save the XMLs in SDLXLIFF file format and send those to your translators. Once you get the translate SDLXLIFF files back, you will Save as Target to get them back into XML format. Then back to the pub2xml app to import the XML files back into PUB format.

I found the pub2xml very easy to install and use, with no major issues detected. You can also set up pub2xml to produce PDF files automatically with each file import.

8 Best Tools for Freelance Translators

Even professionals tend to make mistakes. Busy workloads, prolonged concentration and associated fatigue can cause people to make silly mistakes even in the most routine tasks. In order to avoid these situations and to detect errors on time, there are a few special assistants that will safeguard the quality of your material. If you have chose your career path as a freelance translator, then the following assistants will become your friends while enabling you to do your job perfectly, regardless of the time of day.

Great for Beginners and More – MEMOQ

The basic functions of a good translation tool are well suited for beginners who are just starting their journey. This is a great tool, as it does not require payment. And for 45 days, the user will have the opportunity to evaluate the complete package that the program can provide. Accordingly, the number of functions over these 1.5 months will grow to incredible sizes. And as has already been tested by our own experience, it is difficult to return to the “usual” format when you have already tasted that very juicy “fruit”.

As many as 100 languages will be at your disposal. Build your base of frequently used expressions, add ready-made translations to the database and work with them, improving each time.

  • Available on Windows and iOS

It’s Never Too Late to Learn – LINGVO-ONLINE

Can’t remember the right phrase or phraseology? Do you want to find a suitable synonym, but you can’t remember anything suitable? This assistant will find it at your request. Here you will have access to 15 languages, as well as to an expanded library of dictionaries. Look for not only single words but also specific expressions of native speakers. Also, here is the opportunity to contact other users and share own experience with them. Combine work and training moments, talk with users from all over the world, and get new knowledge firsthand.

  • Available on mobile devices based on Android and iOS (online and offline), as well as on a PC based Windows machines.

Your Knowledge of the Importance and Features of Translation – The Word Point

This is an assistant that holds a real treasure chest of goodies. You can and should contact it if you encounter a problem of any nature. Experienced people will help to restore the lost logical chain in your work, as well as correctly execute any translation order. However, the delights of the assistant do not end there. You can find here a regularly updated database of incredibly useful articles about all things related to translation. The best marketing moves, the importance of understanding the cultural value of the languages you are translating into, and other informative treasures are stored here for both beginner translators and those who already have more than a little experience in this business.

  • Available on Windows and iOS PC

Your Personal Word Base – TermWiki Toolbar

Do you have a word or expression that is difficult to remember? This assistant will solve this problem. It will not only help to translate any word or phrase from 90 units of available languages but also create a personal dictionary of those terms that you want to remember. The assistant is available for free, which is a nice bonus.

  • Available on Windows PC

Watching Your Literacy – Grammarly

Have you ever encountered missing commas and mechanical typos? It is rather annoying to spend additional time on repeated proofreading of a document, in search of such mistakes. Fortunately, with this extension, this time can be spent on checking the consistency and logic of the text. Ease of use will conquer any user. Write your texts in any program that is convenient for you. The extension supports work in Google Docs and also provides the ability to add your work to the program itself and conduct checks inside. This extension works great with American, British, Canadian, and Australian English.

Not a Single Sign Will Be Missed – Word Count Tool

It is normal that payment for the work of a translator is carried out according to the number of words written. You can quickly and easily perform this calculation with this assistant. Moreover, here the user will be able to find out not only the number of words and characters but also the number of paragraphs. The assistant also provides information on the length of sentences and their number in the text. All this is issued in a concise and understandable form.

  • Available on Windows and iOS PC

Your Mistakes Will Not Triumph Over Your Efforts – Antidote

There is a solution for automatically detecting grammar and spelling mistakes. This assistant, although reminiscent of its characteristics Grammarly, works with an increased database of languages. Here, not only options for the English dialect are available for the user, but also French. However, these services require payment. But the advanced translation and verification capabilities are clearly worth the cost.

Your Personal Guide to the World of Languages – Context Reverso

Do you think it is impossible to put together a dictionary, examples of the use of words, all available synonyms for a word? With this assistant it becomes a reality. All you need to do is to choose the source and target language. After pressing a button, the user receives some examples of sentences which will clearly show how and where the necessary word or phrase can be used. This method perfectly shows the possibilities of using words, taking the context into account. Indeed, in any language there is a word that has a number of different  meanings. Thanks to this tool, you no longer need to leaf through thousands of dictionaries to find possible meanings.

Summing Up

Working on our mistakes, actions, and thoughts makes us improve each day. It also happens with our work. Therefore, by using all available, and most importantly high-quality, tools you improve the level of your work and get more opportunities to be chosen as a freelance translator for the most interesting projects.

About the Author

Mary is a well-known American freelance blogger with advanced writing skills. She currently works as a translator at TheWordPoint translation service. Mary has experience in editing, marketing, and her works appeared in different publications and website articles. From 2015 to present she has been studying at William Paterson University as a philosopher. Her main goal in life is not to set any goals and to keep working every day. You can connect to her on LinkedIn.


What is the best practice for InDesign document translation?

InDesign Document Translation

Adobe InDesign is the number one software for creation of brochures, catalogs and other printed material. It is top choice of designers and graphic artists. So it is inevitable that companies that are operating internationally will want to translate the brochures and catalogs into other languages (for use in trade shows, sales events and such).

Many customer are unaware that INDD files can be translated directly. So they either do a wasteful two-step process by translating the text in a text or Word file and inserting it into the INDD file. But that is a waste of time and expense.  Or they convert the PDF file into MS Word and translate that file. But that may lead to botched up work as text expansion may result in incorrect text placement.

But if you translate the INDD file directly, then the layout comes out good in the first place and the graphic artists will spend no or little time on the translated publications. The good news is that this is a straightforward process which can be handled easily by a professional translator or translation agency. For the workflow that we use at GTS, you will need a licensed copy of InDesign and a CAT tool like SDL Trados. Here is a video which shows our workflow.

How to order InDesign document translation from GTS

To order the translation of an INDD file from GTS, create a price quote online by going to Create the quote using a PDF file and complete the payment online. Once the order is completed, send your INDD files by email to [email protected] and specify the order number. We will translate the INDD file and deliver both a translated INDD file and a translated PDF file.

Everything you need to know about CAT Tools

Translators face many challenges in their daily work. They are forced to deliver projects within short deadlines and are often asked to translate more words per day than reasonably possible. And all of this must be done without compromising quality. It obviously means that stress and pressure are a staple of a freelance translator’s life. Here’s where CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools become critical for any translator. There is no perfect CAT tool, but they help professionals to a great extent.

There are several CAT Tools in the market: they have their differences regarding features, pricing and usability. At the end of this post we will list some of them. All CAT tools share a common aspect: translation memories (TM). Translation memories are like a database that store linguistic units that have previously been translated. They are key for easing the job of any translator. If you are not really sure about whether to use CAT tools or not, take into account the following statements and you may change your mind after reading this.

CAT tools improve quality

A good translator and a good translation agency always base their work on previous projects. Why? It is simple, because of similarities. Not all texts are equal, but some share some common points that can be applied to different projects. When translating segments you can get some translation suggestions, check the concordance level between your memory translation and the new segment, and even search previous translation results, which eases and helps a great deal. In those cases, CAT tools can reuse information by applying it to new translation projects. So you can keep accuracy which greatly improves quality.

CAT tools share information

You can use just your own information or even benefit from other’s translators previous work. Translation services UK is a company that has been applying the idea of shared memory translations, so that different freelance or in-house translators may take advantage of different projects. When having a big TM the results can be awesome. By choosing among several alternatives or relying on common options, any translator can deliver a better job.

We work with SDL Groupshare where we can maintain our TMs easily. Since this tool is from the developers of SDL Trados, which is the leading CAT tool in the market, most translators can connect to our TMs and work with the same TM easily. Projects can be made available with an online editor so that any translator can work on the text simultaneously. Alternatively, our PMs can also split text into numerous segments so that several translators can work on the same text at the same time, depending on the volume and timelines.

CAT tools reduce time

When you are reusing data, you can save time. And by applying previous information, you can translate quicker. It helps a lot for delivering all deadlines on time and / or enjoying some free time by finishing work earlier. So why are you wasting your time translating similar texts instead of reducing many hours of work? Thanks to CAT tools, you can save time. And time is money, right?

CAT tools make money

As mentioned, time is of the essence. So CAT tools pay for themselves and make money through increased translation throughput. If you can translate quicker, you can finish your work earlier or even afford more daily words without compromising quality. Meaning that you can complete more work in an allotted time. Or you can work less time, but obtain the same monetary income, which eventually means an increase in your hourly rate.

But you must also take into account that CAT tools are not perfect, so you should not completely rely on them, as technology is just an aid; but when doing your translation work you can benefit from some of their features for easing your job.

To sum up, if you are aiming for quality, if you want to reduce your working time, and if you are striving to increase your income as a translator, you should be using a CAT tool.

Common Ground in CAT Tools

Translation Memory eXchange (TMX) file format is used by most all of the CAT tools. This allows translation companies to switch between various CAT tools while not having to worry about file compatibility issues. This also means that translation companies freelance translators with any CAT tool and be able to integrate the TM into their aligned corpora.

Creation of a TM out of existing translations

Even if your company does not have an existing TM, you can easily create one by aligning the legacy source and translated text to create a TMX file. The TMX can then be imported into your CAT tool. There are a number of alignment tools that can be used for this task. Some of these include ABBYY Aligner, SDL Trados and MemoQ.

Which CAT Tool should you choose?

The leading CAT tool is SDL Trados. This company has been in existence for over 20 years and they have products for every kind of user, starting from freelance translators up to enterprise versions for large-scale LSPs and corporate clients. The basic license works on your PC (and not in a cloud). The entry level for freelance translators is quite high, around 500 Euro. This deters many freelance translators from purchasing it.

Another very popular CAT tools is Wordfast. The reason it is so popular: there is a free version that can be used quickly and easily (Wordfast Anywhere). The free solution is cloud-based. But is lacks many features that translators have come to rely on. But you can start with the free version and graduate to premium versions with time.

Across is a cloud-based solution which has become very popular in recent years. They offer a certification program for translators and LSPs.

MemoQ is one of the more cost competitive solutions in the market and can be integrated with Trados Studio (SDLXLIFF) files, which is one of its key benefits.

SmartCAT is a computer-assisted translation web app that enables collaborative translation.

Rocio Gonzalez is in charge of communication and is a linguist for Okodia, a language service provider. You can find her on LinkedIn here.