The Difficult Art of Budgeting for Translation - Pharmaceutical Executive


The Difficult Art of Budgeting for Translation

Successful Product Manager's Handbook

Crunching numbers

After languages, format and content type are determined, the real nuts and bolts of translation cost are determined by these variables:

  • Word count (this is typically the source word count)
  • Page count
  • The amount of text in graphics that needs to be extracted, translated, and then rebuilt in the target language
  • Project management time—some projects are more product manager-intensive than others
  • Engineering time—also known as desktop publishing or formatting time
  • Reviews—who does final language reviews—you, or the translation agency?

Translation memory

If you've had any discussions with a translation agency, chances are you've heard the term "translation memory" or "TM."

A TM is essentially a database that stores translated phrases from past projects for use in subsequent projects.

Translation memory has many obvious advantages—consistency and turnaround time being two. But the most obvious and important advantage is cost savings.

Translation agencies won't charge you for text that has already been translated and will give discounts on a sliding scale for different levels of what are called fuzzy matches—phrases that have 75 percent or more of their words already translated.

So, say you have a document containing 30,000 words—a 100-page manual or clinical report if you assume 300 words per page. Let's assume the agency will charge 25 cents per word for all linguistic work in a given language, including translation, editing, and proofreading. You could expect to pay a little over $7,525 for this work, plus the additional fees for project management and engineering time.

Creating a Translation Budget
Now, let's imagine a previous iteration of the same document had been translated six months earlier. Maybe half of the text was updated to reflect some product changes or new trial features. When the document is run against the TM, here are the results.

The net words now requiring translation have significantly reduced what will be your final cost.


Estimated on an hourly basis, the work-time rates are based on analysis of past projects, both for your company and also for other clients with similar work. These metrics should be updated and checked periodically to stay current. Work-times are usually calculated based on page counts, word count, type of document, or format and process required. Some languages can influence these costs as well, such as Arabic, in which text flows in the opposite direction on a page and has special considerations.

Once you know how an agency prices translation work, ask to see the pricing broken down in a quote, by language and by category (linguistic, engineering, PM).

Jason Heaton is a marketing manager at ForeignExchange Translations. He can be reached at


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