Dec 22, 2009

The 2008 BDÜ rate survey

Last year's rate survey published by the German translators association BDÜ caused a bit of a stir; it was the first time that such information had been collected and published, and some looked at the published rates as being unrealistically high, while others considered them laughably low. In other words, the rate debates it inspired were no different than any others I've heard or read elsewhere.

This year's publication format is much nicer than the last one. The numbwits involved in last year's booklet were so afraid the data might be copied that they printed it on red paper. This made it very hard to read, and I was quite annoyed at the strain my eyes experienced when trying to read some of the interesting information at the back. This year, good sense prevailed, and the booklet was printed black on white with occasional bits of grey shading, the purpose of which escapes me (maybe it's explained somewhere - I haven't read everything yet).

What interested me was whether the reported rates were significantly different from last year. On the whole I would say that they are not. The number of respondents is slightly lower in most categories than last year (for my DE>EN pair at least), some rates are a bit higher, some a bit lower. No dramatic change in any direction, and I doubt that the changes found are statistically significant. So it would seem that, for German to English at least, the number of panicked translators slashing rates in anticipation of the End of the World (aka "the crisis") is balanced by those of us partying our way to Armageddon by raising rates (something it would seem daft not to do given the huge increases in utility costs and food in the past year).

This year's data included not only the averages but also the median values to give a better picture of the distributions. Personally I would like to see the raw data or at least some standard deviations. Then I can aim to become a "six sigma translator" :-)

Here are some of the current rates reported for the DE<>EN combinations:

For those who want these data as word rates, go query Ms. Muzzi's Fee Wizard or do some word counts on a few of your own documents and figure it out. There are word rate data published by the BDÜ as well, but the number of respondents was much lower (5 for court work), so the data are less indicative I think. It's important to remember that these are average data from an ordinary range of presumably qualified translators. Although the BDÜ does require various types of translation credentials for membership, there are plenty of credentialed translators who would make much better gardeners and pastry chefs or something else. Anything but language service providers.

Averages and median values for hourly rates published for German to English range from 40 to a bit over 60 euros for all the categories. English to German is a bit less, probably due to the competition in Germany.

What's the situation for other language combinations? There is data for language pairs that do not include German, such as FR<>EN. The number of respondents for those combinations is low, but the numbers they report would probably cause some translators in the US and UK to respond with disbelief. On the whole, however, the data reported by the BDÜ is plausible and fits what I have see in recent years. There is a huge range of rates in the real world, and it's as much a matter of marketing and customer service as it is linguistic skill.

Once again, the full booklet with all rate tables and other useful information can be ordered from the association at It should be noted that the booklet is in German; the tables above are my translations of an excerpt of the information.


  1. Kevin,

    Interesting and useful post, thank you. The SFT (Société française des traducteurs) also conducts an annual survey (in French), whose results for 2008 can be found at the link below. The data were collected from anonymous responses from members and non members with a broad array of language combinations.

    Happy holidays!

  2. I noticed when I got to the back of the current issue of the monthly magazine published by the BDÜ that they claim an overall increase in rates. However, as I noted, the data do not support this in all cases, and I strongly doubt that those examining the data performed any T-tests or other statistical methods to determine at a reasonable confidence level that things are, on the whole, moving up. What is apparent, however, is that the predictions of some that translation market rates would collapse have no relevance to the German market.

  3. Thanks for posting that, Kevin. Am I right in assuming that the figures you quote are based upon the target text? As far as I can see, you don't make this clear. It might be worth doing so, for the benefit of those not familiar with the German convention.

    Marc P.

  4. Mea culpa, Mark. Yes, the BDÜ data are for target lines and source words. They also give per page data (1350 character basis), but I don't know whether that is source or target. I haven't had time to read the booklet in full yet, and it is different than last year's work in many ways.


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