It’s a wild word

I receive ads, from time to time, from translation agencies boasting excellent quality translation services at unbeatable rates. Some even offer complete services at a price lower than I pay my suppliers.
The first thing that crosses my mind every time is, “how on earth do they do it?”
It is true that each language has its price. This price depends on demand, scarcity and the linguist’s country of residence. Irish and Japanese, for example, are very expensive. But, contrary to what you might think, Chinese can also be expensive – you always need to take account of a third factor: the source language. A translation from German or Finnish to Chinese is, of course, more costly than a translation from English into Chinese (for info, English is the most widespread source language for all translation combinations). I, in addition, prefer a Chinese translator living or having studied in Germany rather than another who has never left China. The quality of a translation is greatly based on knowledge of the source language country, its current news and culture.
There is also a price to pay for a linguist’s experience. A junior translator will be less expensive than a senior translator, the latter able to deliver translation of a quality which does not require redrafting or proofreading (at a cost) by an expert in the field.
In knowing all this, I just cannot fathom how it’s possible to offer prices well below the average for all languages, while claiming to deliver top quality translations.
I have therefore decided, from this day onwards, to request details on the methodology and resources of each agency which contacts me and to give you their responses (without naming the agency), analysing them on this blog.
While waiting, if you happen to have stumbled upon the wonderful world of Inexpensive Professional Linguists and know where it can be found, don’t hesitate to share your discovery in the comments section!


  • Since I wrote this post I have received two offers of this kind. I have mailed each time asking explanations about their methods. I had no answer as of today.

  • Like many a starving artist, I have to just accept whatever an editor is willing to pay. But I am confident my translations are of excellent quality for three reasons:
    1) an anglophone, I translate only into my mother tongue
    2) a writer, I translate only literary works, using my hard-earned skills
    3) an artist, I take pride in producing works of art, so I give as many hours as are needed to every translation
    And this is why I can answer your question “How on earth do they do it?” — by having a second job to pay the bills!!