When intending to charge per source word, we translators are able to give clients an accurate quotation for the translation up-front. That will be advantageous to the client in knowing how to budget for a particular project, as opposed to charging per target word that will give a rough estimation of what the final cost is likely to be.
Charging by target word count has practical advantages too. For example, you might work with clients who submit documents in formats that don’t contain a word count, such as a paper hardcopy or a faxed document. If you do work with clients who favor these type of formats, then you won’t have to spend a painstaking amount of time counting each word individually or making a rough estimation by multiplying the words on a page (and potentially performing more work for less if you miscalculate!). It’s also extremely important to consider linguistic factors that can affect your level of remuneration. The effect that expansion and contraction can also have on a translation’s length, and thus the time you will spend working on it.
Expansion and contraction. Depending on the language, your translation might expand and become longer than the source language, or it might contract and end up shorter than the amount of words in the original document. This is because different languages have different grammar, syntax and word usage, among other contributory factors. Expansion and contraction isn’t the same for two languages regardless of the way you are translating.
In addition to linguistic matters, your document’s content can also contribute to a translation’s expansion or contraction, and is an important point to consider when deciding whether to charge per source word or per target word.
Romantic books or advertising copy need to entice the reader and awaken the senses, which in English often involves using additional detail and descriptive words to convey a point, making the text’s expansion likely. On the other hand, technical documentation (depending on the language) could be brief and concise, possibly resulting in textual contraction.
Examples of conducted research on language expansion and contraction when translating from one language to another.
Translating English into Arabic generally results in text expansion of approximately 25%.
Translating Spanish to English has a textual contraction of approximately 15%.
Translating English to Finish has a textual contraction of 25-30%, but translating Finish to English has an expansion of 30-40%.
Translating English to Portuguese can have a textual expansion of 15-25%, but translating Portuguese to English has a textual contraction of the same amount. Translating German into Swedish can have a textual expansion of 40-50% as Germans love long words and Swedish don’t.