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Estimating Proofreading Costs

Many customers continually ask how much proofreading costs. The answer given to them is generally as follows: “It depends on how well the text has been translated.”

There is a reason for this. Many people believe that even if a text is poorly translated and they send to a translation office for the text to be optimised, they will save money. This is not true.

Many in the translation industry have started using machine translation, also known as MT. There are many applications and programs available for computers to translate texts. Some of these function better than others, and they have made a great deal of progress over a long period of years, but it will still take a very long time for machine translation to surpass the work of a human being, especially if the text to be translated is very complex.

Nevertheless, machine translation has taken a lot of business away from language service providers because very easy texts can be very quickly translated just to get the gist of things. If this is all that is required, then machine translation may be a wise option. Although, when dealing with very complex technical, medical, or legal translations that have to be used for professional purposes, machine translation is just a bad idea. Very often, customers ask for a lower word price if the text has been pre-translated by a machine, but in fact, correcting a machine translation could sometimes take longer than translating a text from scratch.


Think about this in another context. If you were building a house, would it be easier to have an inexperienced person build it using all of those resources and combining all of those complexities resulting in a mediocre house and then, afterwards, hire a builder to repair at all? If a cook makes this soup and does this poorly, how easy is it to make that soup still taste good? This goes back to a common-law known by most project managers. Namely, rework always cost more because when bad work has to be corrected, this is associated with more effort than doing it right the first time.

Although, keep in mind, even a text translated by human being can be done badly. It is common occurrence among clients for a non-native speaking customer to attempt to write a text on their own in the target language in order to save money and send it into the translation agency to be corrected. In most cases, depending on the language ability of the author, correcting this text may cost more, but there is a much greater issue. If a non-native speaker has written a text, even if it has been corrected for grammar and syntax, it will never possess the fluency, style and register that a native speaker would generally be capable of writing. Concisely, that means the text may not sound “professional” enough.

Although, even native speakers can be bad translators. One common misconception in the world of translation is that anyone who speaks two languages can translate. In fact, that is not true. An amateur translator that speaks both the source and target language fluently may be able to translate, but that does not mean that the translation will sound professional, nor does it ensure the quality of the translation. There are many skills that a translator must have. It is impossible to list all of these in a single page, but these skills are generally derived from experience.

Therefore, proofreading is not charged by line or word, but by the hour depending on the work at hand. It does not seldom occur that proofreading a poorly translated text would cost much more than translating the text from scratch.

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