May 21, 2011

Translation survey results

A few days ago, I invited users of the French Linguistics site to respond to a survey about their perception of translation services. I was interested in finding out how much people generally expected to pay for the translation of documents, and what their perception of translation services was generally. I also conducted a similar survey among professional translators.

A common theme among various discussion boards and forums for professional translators is how alarmed many are about an increasingly negative public perception of translation work. Translators express concern not only about a continual drop in the rates that clients are prepared to budget for for translation services (the No Peanuts! for Translators blog perhaps being among the clearest testimonies to this), but also of a more general underestimation of the amount of work and skill involved in translation work. In my survey, I was therefore keen to try and quantify this perception.

I'll be the first to admit that this survey isn't hugely scientific: little control was placed on which clients/members of the "general public" responded to the survey or whether the clients vs translators responding where involved in the same types of translation or language pairs ("clients" answering the survey are likely to be primarily interested in French, whereas only 19% of translators responding worked with the French<>English pair, for example). The sample sizes are also not terribly large or homogeneous: 95 "clients" vs 42 translators. But I think the figures that I'll present do nontheless give a "general feeling" for how grave the situation may have become.

Translators and clients were asked to give a rough "per page" estimate of how much they would expect to pay for translation. (In reality, translation is usually charged for by word count, but my own experience tells me that many translation clients tend to "think" in pages and may not be familiar with what, say, 1,000 words actually represents in real terms.) The graph above shows the somewhat telling results of this question. Of those who were able to give an estimate, 60% of clients/general public indicated that they would expect to pay $10 or less for the translation of a single page. In a typical document, this would equate to $20-$40 to translate 1,000 words of source text. Conversely, none of the professional translators responding indicated that they would expect clients to pay such a low rate, with most expecting clients to pay $50+ per page. There is a general downward trend in the percentage of "client" repsondents willing to pay prices between $20 and $50, although 15% of "client" respondents able to give a figure did indicate that they would expect to pay $50+. (Perhaps these 15% are the more "educated" clients who frequently contract translation and know what realistically to expect for their money?)

In my next post, I will give some a summary of responses to client perception of translation more generally. But I think the figures above are in themselves telling and give concrete evidence for the general perception of being undervalued that is expressed in translators' blogs and forums.

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