Why are interpreters so expensive?

A question I’m asked several times a week.


That’s why I keep several ready-to-use answers up my sleeve:

–  An interpreter works as a self-employed professional; he or she pays both company taxes and employee taxes which means that half his or her income is allocated to tax (the same goes for translators).

–  Like all freelancers, interpreters are never sure of having daily work, so their rates are based on an average of days worked per year. Just compare with an external consultant, graphic designer or IT specialist… self-employed professionals cost more than salaried employees, it’s normal.

–  Any assignment, even if only a few hours long, requires at least one day’s preparation (researching specific documentation and terminology, calls and meetings with the client) and travel time (incurring “travel allowance”, at extra cost if the interpreter has to travel the day before the assignment).  That’s why interpreters only apply a rate per day and not an hourly rate: the effort required is the same for 3 hours worth of interpreting as it is for 6 hours.

–   Interpreting is a very tiring profession which does not tolerate any decline in quality or vitality. It requires great concentration and rest times between interventions and assignments to maintain the voice and keep responsive. That’s why interpreters are fussy about planning. What time is lunch? What time are toilet breaks and coffee breaks? How many breaks are there? How many speakers are there? Interpreters can be quite tiring, but that’s because we tire them out too.

–  Specialisation (the fact that they cannot be replaced by the first person who comes along) costs money. Interpreters study for many years, keep constantly up to date and informed on their specialisations, and exercise their interpreting skills even when not working. Often, interpreters will add new language combinations to their skill base and continue training throughout their career. Unfortunately for them, they still need to put food on the table when busy training and not working…

To round off this list, I call upon you – my colleagues. Please comment and let us know your experiences, what your working day involves and your response strategy when clients think you are overpriced!