There’s a pretty enormous gap between what’s normal and what’s possible. Per word translation rates in the US, for example, tend to fall between $0.10 and $0.20—but some Spanish translators will work for as low as $0.02/word, while translations from the Mayan language Kichu easily commands twenty times that amount!
What does a per-word rate look like in the long run?
Depending on whom you ask, the median annual income for full-time translators in the US falls somewhere between $40,000 and $43,000. But this median represents a vast range of incomes, with outliers in the six-figure range.
What makes the difference between an ordinary and extraordinary income?
Let’s consider the question of average and potential earnings mathematically. Most translators cover between 400-600 words per hour for a job of average difficulty. This works out to 2,000-3,000 words per day, or 400-600 thousand words per year (with weekends and some vacation time). At $0.10 per word, a full-time annual income comes out to around $50,000.
Now consider another translator working at the same pace. He has a targeted specialization or works in a niche language and (this is key!) insists on the high value of his work. That translator could command up to $0.35/word. Without working overly long hours, and particularly if he knows how to use computer assisted translation or speech recognition tools to increase his efficiency, he could make nearly $200,000 per year.
In the end, a high quality product justifies a high rate. Education, experience, efficiency, cost of living, and self-confidence should all factor into the value of your work. Don’t let stubborn clients bully you or ridiculously cheap competition intimidate you; self-deprecation is the freelance’s most common (and easily avoidable) mistake!
Did you ever feel like you are selling yourself short? Does cheap competition influence your rates?