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How to count words for translation

How to count words and calculate the cost of a translation

How to count words is not as easy as it sounds…

We have all needed translation services at some point. It may be a document you need to make sense of its content. Or it may be something as frustrating as watching a foreign language movie with no subtitles. Translation is a professional service, and naturally will cost you. Here, I hope to show you the three best methods for estimating translation costs.


Counting words

How should we count the number of words making up the source (original) text or document. Microsoft Word, for instance, has an easy-to-use wordcount function. Digital documents are easy to analyse, printed ones not so much. Scanned and photographed images can be a nightmare…

Cost by word

Translation cost is calculated by multiplying the word count by the price the translation agency charges per word.

Assuming the word count of the source document is 5,000 words, and the translation agency charges $0.13 per word, the translation cost could be 5,000 * 0.13 = $650.

This method is fairly standard as it makes for easy comparison between suppliers.


Cost by standard page count

This method estimates translation costs by multiplying the number of standard pages by the price charged by the translation agency per page.


What is a standard page?

A standard page has around 1,800 characters including spaces between words. Or 1,000 characters excluding the spaces. The term standard implies that the page is not the same as an actual page.

It is more accurate to estimate translation costs using the standard page concept rather than the actual number of pages. This is because the amount of text to translate remains the same irrespective of the font style/size used or images and blank spaces included. The addition and use of these elements makes translation exorbitant when price is charged by the actual number of pages.

Estimating the cost of a sworn translation

Only a sworn translator can carry out a sworn translation. This type of translator is certified  and authorized by most countries’ Foreign Ministries/Office to do so. Other names include Official, Legal, Public or Certified translation. The specific cost for sworn translation is set by the sworn translator herself. Technical or very specific documents can have different higher rates.


Other costing factors

Notwithstanding  the method used in estimating translation costs, there are other factors translation agencies consider before they decide on the price to render their services. Some of these factors include:

  • Turnaround/deadline: Some translators charge higher when the requested deadline is shorter than their standard delivery period;
  • Language combination: complex or unusual language combinations usually have higher prices. For example, translating from Italian to Vietnamese;
  • Each company/supplier’s review process.



Therefore, when selecting a translation agency, try to find out what factors affect the cost and at what percentage they do.

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