As business becomes more globalized and companies expand into new markets, the demand for language service providers (LSPs) is up. The same logic applies domestically, as over 67 million people in the US speak a language other than English at home. To reach them, you need an LSP.
However, it can sometimes be unclear what you’ll pay for an LSP, either one-off or long-term.
At LinguaLinx, we understand how crucial it is to get a translation or interpretation project right. The subtleties and cultural nuances of speaking to an audience in their first language influence the effectiveness of your messaging. They also influence pricing, along with other factors.
Below, we’ll explore the top factors determining the costs of hiring a language service provider.
1. The Type of Language Service Provided
One of the first conversations you’ll have with an LSP will be about the type of services you’re looking to outsource. Your final price point will depend on the specific services you need. Also, there are variations within services like translation or interpretation that are reflected in prices.
For example, translation services may be priced differently depending on which kind you need:
- Human translation requires individuals or teams of translators to convert a message into another language while tailoring nuances to cultural expectations of the target audience.
- Machine translation involves using artificial intelligence (AI) to convert a message into another language, with optional final editing conducted by a human translator.
On balance, human-involved translation will cost more than pure machine translation. Lighter human editing on machine translation may drive prices down, but heavier human editing (or full human translation) will offer greater quality assurance, which is reflected in a higher price point.
Human involvement also includes greater potential for localization, or the act of optimizing the message to the cultural sensitivities of a target audience. Services like transcreation require human translator/localizer input and are thus generally priced higher than transcription.
Another area altogether, with unique cost implications, is interpretation (see below).
Nuance: How Post-Translation Can Complicate LSP Costs
One benefit of working with a quality LSP (like LinguaLinx) is transparency regarding what kind of language service you’re getting and who—or what—is doing the work of translation proper.
Unfortunately, many LSPs employ tactics that hide the extent of MT being used.
As noted above, human involvement drives up the costs of translation. However, some LSPs will pass off fully MT or MT-assisted translation as human-translated. Others use a practice known as MT post-editing (MTPE) without disclosing the extent of machine involvement to clients.
Even when the MT aspect is disclosed to clients, these providers may still charge artificially inflated prices by underpaying human translators contracted to perform the post-edits.
What makes this nuance even more complicated is that MTPE is not yet a stable, predictable solution across all languages. For example, Afrikaans is the source language MT performs best with, and quality across the board declines steeply after the most common European tongues.
The takeaway here is that you should ask potential LSPs you’re vetting about their use of MT and make sure that you’re getting what you pay for (contractually) for human involvement.
Spotlight: Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpretation
Interpretation services differ from other LSP offerings such as translation or localization in that they often involve translating from spoken language into sign language (or other tongues).
Cost factors range from when and where the interpreter is stationed to the language(s) needed:
- Simultaneous interpretation involves a human translator transfering a message from one language into another, for one or more listeners. Think of a sign-language interpreter conveying the message of a speech to attendees as the orator speaks.
- Consecutive interpretation also occurs in real-time, but the translator relays a message in pieces after pauses in the original. Picture an athlete giving an interview post-match with a reporter from another country—the person relaying the question to the athlete and the answer back to the report is, most often, interpreting consecutively.
Hiring a face-to-face interpreter through a language service provider may cost anywhere from $45 to $150 per hour. On another level, over-the-phone interpretation is much cheaper on average, with costs ranging from $1.25 to $3 per minute, depending on the language and the time spent providing interpretation services.
2. Experience of the Language Service Provider
It goes without saying that an experienced language service provider often translates into a higher quality of service delivery. In the language services industry, your provider’s experience with your target audience will influence how best messages are delivered to this audience.
Although industry and market conditions bear on the kind of experience you seek out, a rule of thumb is that more years of experience and a wider range of coverage will mean higher prices.
Experience with Complex Languages
Language services providers with experience working across multiple languages may command a higher price point than those working with a limited variety of languages. Importantly, not all languages are created equally in terms of their complexity and the ubiquity of experts in them.
For example, services in complex languages like Arabic require an in-depth understanding of cultural nuances and dialects. Arabic is diglossic, meaning that formal written versions of the language vary from informal ones. Because of micro-factors like these, you might expect to pay more for translation to/from Arabic (and similarly complex tongues) than in other languages.
Another micro-factor is ubiquity. The fewer speakers there are of a language, the more likely it is that translation, interpretation, or localization experts are scarce. The language(s) you need to cover will determine which LSPs you can use, and they also inform the amount you’ll pay.
Experience in Different Industries
Beyond experience with complex languages, a language service provider’s experience working across industries can determine the variation in the price point of their services. Namely, LSPs in high-demand industries might charge higher rates for services than those in low-demand fields.
Examples of industries with a high demand for language services include:
- Travel and tourism, with a need for tour guides at popular tourist destinations
- Education and eLearning to meet the needs of multicultural students
- Manufacturing, with a need to disseminate technical information
- Human resources to simplify hiring of overseas talent
- Legal services, with a need to address fairness in business practice
- Healthcare and medical services to meet patient needs across borders
- Banking and financial services, with a greater need for international banking
Importantly, language services require sensitivity to the expectations professionals have within given sectors—and how these may differ across language, geographic, or cultural barriers.
3. Scope and Volume of Services
The price point for each type of language service you use, in any industry or language, will also depend on the scope of services needed. In the most basic terms, that means volume.
That is, your total LSP costs will depend heavily on the total number of words or documents processed or on the number of hours an interpreter is engaged. The specific kinds of files or other media being processed may also impact rates. For example, a translation of a handwritten manuscript will likely cost more than a translation of digital files easily read by an AI program.
Common types of documents translated include, but are not limited to:
- Internal company documents like insurance documents and contracts
- External-facing documents like product manuals, descriptions, and blogs
- Reports prepared for customers, partners, or other stakeholders
Given the competitiveness of the language services market, language service providers might also be open to negotiating the prices of a project based on its size, length, or specific services.
You may find that forming a partnership with an LSP is the most cost-effective model long-term.
4. Planning and Long-Term Relationships
Finally, the prices you pay for LSP engagements will often be impacted by the extent of planning your LSP needs to do to prepare for and deliver projects to you. In practical terms, this usually means that forming longer-term relationships with an LSP can result in lower costs for clients.
An ongoing relationship means predictable workflows, which can eliminate staffing and other resource concerns for the LSP. With a quality provider, those savings are passed on to you.
The language services industry has largely decided upon an ad hoc transitional exchange model (per word, per hour, per document, etc.), but it doesn’t need to be that way. In fact, many LSPs are now moving toward a service model, akin to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers.
However, with the pivot toward IT-like pricing comes the potential for excessive fees.
For example, some LSPs may charge clients for access to a portal where they engage with translators or submit and receive documents. Some charge for API connections for deliveries that otherwise would be free. Others still will add charges for things that arguably shouldn’t be billed, like Translation Memory (TM) creation, which comes standard in most MT platforms.
One defense against overpaying for charges like these is carefully scouring your invoices. An even better one, though, is forming a long-term partnership with a quality LSP—like LinguaLinx.
Get a Quote for Language Services
As you can see from above, LSP costs can vary widely depending on the kinds of services, the experience, the scope of services you need, and your relationship (or lack thereof) with an LSP.
Whichever language services you’re looking for, in nearly any language and across various industries, LinguaLinx provides cost-effective solutions—starting with a free consultation.
We're fluent in 200+ languages and have helped 1500+ unique clients convey their messages to new audiences. Plus, with our ISO 17100 compliance, you know you’re in good hands.
Contact us today to learn more about our services!
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