Being a professional, you surround your business with professionals. Whether you need an accountant, a lawyer or a translator to help your business grow, you know you shouldn’t settle for anything less than perfect. But you also need to know exactly what you are getting for your money.

Why are some languages more expensive than others in translation?

Why does your translation company have one rate for a particular language pair – A translated into B – and another rate for the same language pair in reverse – B translated into A? Are all languages translated into B generally more expensive?

The short answer: It depends.

Let me explain.

Demand and Supply

It all comes down to economics; the prices are based on the equilibrium between demand and supply. All the clients in need of translation represent the demand, while all the professional translators are the supply. If the demand is high, supply grows to meet the demand; therefore, there are more translators to meet the demand, so the rates become non-competitive.

The number of professional translators is definitely higher in large, developed countries – like the UK or Germany – than in smaller or developing countries – like the Netherlands or Malaysia. Therefore, there are many more translators of English into Dutch or Malay, than there are of Dutch into English, or Malay into English.

Other factors

Things aren’t always as simple as that. Other factors can, and will, interfere in this demand/supply relationship; sometimes these factors outweigh this relationship altogether. I’ll address only two of them, as I consider these to be the most common: scarcity of language and type of translation.

  • Scarcity – Professional translators always work in their mother tongue. Prices grow if a more exotic language, like Swahili, Fijian, Icelandic or even Latin – no translator on earth has Latin as their mother tongue – comes into the equation. The demand for these languages is usually low, but when it does exist, the limited – or the low – supply sets the price even higher.
  • Type of translation – General translations are usually less expensive than technical ones. Technical translations include  translations of technical manuals, legal, financial, or engineering-related documents. These types of translation should only be performed by professional translators specialised in the required field, or unpleasant consequences could occur.

Scarcity of language and type of translation are far from being just the only factors that affect the final price of a translation. There are many more of them and they differ from each language combination – and specialisation – to another. Feel free to add them in the comments section below.

Translation companies juggle with all these factors and try to find the perfect equilibrium between demand and supply. The ultimate success is when they set the price in a way both the translator and the client are happy with it.