ULG's Language Services Blog

How Much Does Good Translation Cost?




How much will good translation cost? It's one of the most common questions we hear from clients. It's also one of the most challenging questions to answer, simply because there are so many variables that can affect the final price.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some industry norms for pricing translation projects, and some ways to consider the real value of translation that you might not have considered.


How lsps price translation projects


Paying for translation services isn’t like buying office supplies.  A range of factors can affect how much a particular project will cost. Here are some of the most common:

  • Word count: Most LSPs price projects on a per-word basis. This method of pricing strikes a balance between fair compensation for the translators and a predictable, set price for the clients.  That said, the per-word price can vary considerably. 
  • Other, less commonly used options include pricing per hour, per page or offering a set rate for a specific type of project.
  • Language pairs: Some language pairs are more common than others. If you need a rare language translated, you can expect the per word rate to go up.
  • Machine translation vs. human translation: Machine translation is cheaper than human translation, but it's also not appropriate for all projects.
  • Type of project: Some translation projects are more straightforward than others. For example, marketing translation often involves significant rewriting to appeal to a new target audience. Fields like medical and legal translation require specialists to make sure the terminology gets translated accurately.
  • Additional services: Often, translation creates a need for other services. For example, change the language of a document, and you may have to redesign it to accommodate the new text.


how much does good translation cost? you might be asking the wrong question.


Instead, consider how much more it would cost to fix a bad translation!

Good translation is an investment. It can help your organization reach more people, find more customers, and stay out of legal trouble. Bad translation is a money pit.

For example, the case of the $71 million word: "intoxicado."

Why is it called “The $71 million word?” Because, $71 million is what a Florida hospital had to pay after it was mistranslated. When 18-year-old Willie Ramirez was brought unconscious into the hospital, his family told doctors they thought he might have food poisoning. In Spanish, that's "intoxicado." However, without a proper interpreter, "intoxicado" became "intoxicated." The doctors assumed he had overdosed – case closed. He actually had a brain bleed. Without timely, proper tests and treatment, he left the hospital quadriplegic.

Another example is the case of HSBC’s 2009 “Assume Nothing” campaign. “Assume Nothing” became “Do Nothing” in several other languages. That’s not what you want to hear from the bank you’ve entrusted with your life savings, is it? HSBC had to launch another campaign to get the right message out. The total cost ended up at $10 million.

In 2011 infant formula manufacturer Mead Johnson had to recall 4.6 million cans of baby formula because of translation errors on the packaging. The total cost also ended up being around $10 million.


Good translation is priceless! If you skimp on quality now, your organization might end up spending a lot more money later. That said, a good LSP will be able to help you manage costs through efficient project management while utilizing machine translation and translation memories appropriately. For more information on how United Language Group can help you maximize your budget without compromising on quality, contact us today.