Business Translation Center

The most expensive languages to translate - and the cheapest!

by OFER TIROSH 02/05/2017

Undertaking a cost benefit analysis when making a new business decision is an important part of running a company. Doing so applies to taking on a translation service, just as it does to other areas of a business’ operations. 

Businesses looking to cost up the possibility of translating their documents (whether it be the company website, software or marketing collateral) need to have a clear indication of what the total expenditure will be. Tools like the Tomedes online translation quote service can help with this. Having an understanding of why different languages cost different amounts can also be beneficial. 

Translation costs – what’s involved?

The cost of a translation can vary based on numerous factors. The rarity of the language, the number of translators available, the origin of the translator and the particular language pairing can all have an impact on the overall price of a translation. 

Translating into (or from) rare languages usually costs more due to the laws of supply and demand. A rare language means that there are fewer qualified translators available. Thus those who do offer translation services in that language can command a price premium for their rare skills. 

A translator’s origin (and current location) also make a difference. Translators based in countries with a high cost of living have to charge more for their services in order to sustain a viable career. This means that a translator living in Switzerland or Iceland (for example) will have to charge more than a translator living in India or Egypt (example countries are based on the Numbeo Cost of Living Index).  

The language pairing is also relevant to the cost. A translation from and into languages that enjoy an abundance of translators (say, Spanish to English) will cost less than one from (for example) Japanese to Swahili. 

The most expensive languages to translate

While costs vary according to the individual translation in question, it is possible to identify several languages which are more expensive than others, based on the above factors. Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Finnish and Korean are some of the most pricey due to the cost of living in those countries. Iceland has the third highest cost of living in the world, according to Numbeo’s data, and Norway the fourth. Sweden comes in at 17th, South Korea at 19th and Finland at 23rd. 

Many African languages are also expensive to translate. Africa is the most linguistically diverse continent on Earth, with more than 2,000 distinct languages. Translators for some of the less widely used languages can be tough to track down, hence the elevated price of translating many African languages. 

The cheapest languages to translate

Conversely, languages with vast numbers of speakers around the globe are some of the cheapest to translate. Spanish, English, Arabic, Mandarin, Italian and French all have plentiful speakers available, including an abundance of professional translators. 

Many Indian languages are also extremely cost effective to translate, as a result of the relatively low cost of living in India and the number of translators available. According to Numbeo, India comes 120th out of the 121 countries that were ranked by their cost of living (only Egypt has a lower cost of living). 

Bearing in mind factors like this can be extremely useful for those looking to undertake business translation projects, particularly if they are looking to translate content into a variety of languages at once. 

For more information, contact the Tomedes team