RATES CHARGED BY INTERPRETERS AND TRANSLATORS

WORKING USING THE INTERNET/COMPUSERVE

IN 1997

 

INTRODUCTION

The survey was carried out between January 1997 and April 1997. All respondents were on the Internet and/or CompuServe, mainly contacted via the Lantra mailing list for interpreters and translators on the Internet and the FLEFO Forum on CompuServe.

A total of 337 people replied to the questionnaire. Of these answers, 39 were not used because they were supplied in an incorrect format, preventing accurate collection.

The number of language combinations with a sufficient number of respondents to enable statistically significant results to be obtained was quite limited.

 

The share as a percentage for the target language was as follows

 

German

12%

Portuguese

4%

Finnish

8%

Italian

12%

Spanish

10%

French

7%

Dutch

6%

English

35%

 

Other languages, which cannot be considered to have provided significant results due to the low number of respondents, each accounting for less than 1%, were Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Greek, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish and Serbo-Croat.

 

PRESENTATION

The results have been presented in the simplest format possible for accurate interpretation to facilitate downloading and dissemination by e-mail. This has been achieved by giving the results for target languages only. The nature of the results themselves has made this a feasible proposition (see below).

 

NATURE OF THE RESULTS

There were a number of striking aspects to the results.

 

a) Differences between countries

Rates seem to vary little from country to country either amongst translators working with several different countries over the Internet or translators working in one country only but primarily over the Internet. One possible explanation for this is that those translators working with several countries over the Internet tend to gradually select customers (prevalently agencies) offering higher rates. Likewise, translators working only within their own country tend to live in those countries where rates are highest. Those countries reflecting the average rates paid by agencies for the survey were Canada and the USA. There do, however, seem to be even greater differences between low and high paying agencies in Belgium, France, the UK and USA compared to other countries. Variations in rates to direct customers are much less across countries and, however, vary considerably compared to the rate for agencies (between 30% and over 100% of the average agency rates - see section on other variations in rates below).

Very few of the respondents were interpreters, but rates do seem to be comparable for conference interpreting across countries, perhaps due to the international nature of the work. The same was true of business interpreting, but court interpreting rates vary significantly between countries (and states) and were in some cases even lower than community interpreting rates in the same countries.

Highest-paying countries

Agencies in Scandinavia and Switzerland pay approximately 17% above the average for the survey. Agencies in Germany pay approximately 10% above the average for the survey. Several translators living in these countries were keen to point out the high cost of living there.

Lowest-paying countries

The lowest-paying country was Italy, at 43% below the average for the survey, followed by Russia at -40%, Spain at -30% and the UK at -13%. The proportion of translators in these countries working with agencies/customers in other countries is higher than the average (35%), the highest being Italy (62%) and the UK (49%).

 

b) Translations from "high-rate" languages into "low-rate" languages

Although the target language and client country are the strongest determining factors on the rates charged, there are a few notable exceptions for high-rate languages where demand for translations out of this language are high and it is not always easy to find a competent professional. Finnish is the most striking such case at the moment, with rates out of Finnish into Italian, for example, being much closer to the rates for translations into Finnish than they are for translations into Italian. Unfortunately, the small number of respondents in this situation means I cannot quote any reliable figures. A general rule of thumb which applies reasonably well to most cases is simply to take the median for the two languages.

 

c) Other variations in rates

The two factors most influencing rates were experience and specialisation.

The respondents had an average of 8 years' experience, meaning they are probably well established and, indeed, this should be borne in mind when considering the results as a whole. The biggest difference seems to be after 10 years, however. When combined with specialisation, the difference in rates charged can be up to four times the average figures for the target language concerned. The most profitable specialisations seem to be advertising, the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, medicine, banking and finance, nuclear energy, petrochemicals and the law. Established specialist translators tend to work direct with the end customer and charge more than agencies.

 

AGENCIES

Most respondents worked with agencies, 58% only with agencies, 37% with agencies and one or more direct clients and 5% with direct clients only.

The rates shown are those charged agencies. Direct clients are charged an average of 35% with some charging agency rates and a very small percentage of specialists getting even more.

Sadly, reflecting the lack of confidence in the sector generally, very few agencies responded to the survey - although all stressed their interest in hearing the results! A large number of agencies were contacted directly with a view to increasing the number of replies, but in the end only three agencies replied, significantly all established and run by translators and all "members" of Lantra. Unfortunately, the results were not really sufficient to be considered representative since each of the agencies was located in a different country and strongly influenced by the local market.

 

SCALE OF RATES

Most translators do not set a scale of rates, such that there was no difference between their mean and median rates. 31% do set a scale and most of them (92%) have a mean that is below their median, indicating either that their top rates are unrealistic or that they are not marketing themselves successfully. Specialists were the only exception to this.

 

ACCREDITATION

This is still the exception rather than the rule, rarely rising above 25% with the most notable exception being Germany, where it still does not account for half of those surveyed (45%). Accredited translators tend to charge more than their non-accredited colleagues, although it is of course impossible to say whether this is a direct result of accreditation or because they are generally more inclined to invest in their business and marketing.

 

RESULTS

The results show the following:

a) the interpreting charge per day

b) the percentage of this charged on an hourly basis for travel

c) the translation rate in US Dollars per 1000 words of target language

d) the percentage charging surcharges for rush work/anti-social hours and the range of percentages charged

e) the percentage contracting work out to other translators and the range of percentages they charge in commission/fees/administration

f) the percentage of accredited translators

 

Language

Interp

Trav%

Trans

Surch

%

Cont

%

Accr

Chinese

350

100

0.05*

100

15-30

-

-

70

Czech

510

100

-

-

-

-

-

-

Dutch

560

100

160

75

25-100

25

50

25

English

349

75

117

60

15-150

35

0-40

37

Finnish

-

-

150

50

10

-

-

-

French

-

-

124

43

50-80

20

10-25

6

German

650

100

152

75

25-50

40

10-40

45

Italian

-

-

108

50

50

25

10-30

25

Portuguese

-

-

110

30

20-30

30

20

-

Spanish

400

100

125

94

25-100

-

-

33

 

* per character

 

Translators working with customers outside their own country

Language

%

Chinese

100

Czech

100

Dutch

25

English

37

Finnish

50

French

40

German

53

Italian

62

Portuguese

30

Spanish

33

 

© Michael Benis 1997. All rights reserved. All copying for free use authorised in advance providing the author is acknowledged.

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