Feb 10, 2011

English to... with the BDÜ

As a number of my agency friends have mentioned to me over the years, English is often a "gateway language" in large translation projects, with the original source text (in whatever language) being translated into English and that translation being used as the starting point for further translations into third languages. This is because it is usually easier and cheaper to find a translator who knows English in addition to his or her native tongue than one who knows German or French, for example. Thus if I need a translation from German into Malay, I might have more options if I take the German > English > Malay route rather than go directly from German to Malay.

I rather doubt this is what is going on with the BDÜ data for translation from English into various other languages in the 2009 rate survey. The German association for translators and interpreters has many members of foreign origin in it, and some of these simply translate from English as a source language as well as from German. And as anyone involved with English in Germany knows, Germans are very fond of writing original source texts in English and usually do so far better than any native speaker of English could be expected to.

As might be expected, the highest numbers reporting are those for English to German. There is also, as I understand it and as one might expect, some serious competition for that combination in Germany. For most other languages, those wishing to work with local resources will have less of a selection (except for Russian - thanks to Germany's Ostpolitik there are quite a few Russians with distant German ancestors who have come heim ins Reich), so one might expect higher rates to be paid for English into those languages.

Here are the data for the averages of the most frequent rates charged by translators for the respective language combinations (English to German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Russian). Those who want all the data (with highest and lowest rates and medians) can purchase a copy of the full report from the BDÜ web site for € 15. These data may be useful for those in other countries who deal with clients based in Germany - this is what those clients can expect to pay close to home. The column labeled "Average N" contains the numerical average of the number of respondents for both categories; other labels should be obvious.

Source word equivalent data was calculated using Alessandra Muzzi's online Fee Wizard (which uses the EU translation databases for statistics), except for Russian, which I calculated myself using a few articles from Правда.


  1. 5 respondents for Russian, with the average rate of 11 eurocents per word... *sigh* I wonder which planet they came from. Average English-to-Russian rate is about 5 eurocents, and in fact many translators within Russia are happy with 2 eurocents.

    I think I speak the wrong languages :)



  2. Hi Kevin, I'd love to subscribe to your site but can't use any of the options offered for subscribing to posts (including gmail and yahoo.) Is there any way I can subscribe using my csoftintl.com email address?
    Thanks in advance!

  3. Sophie, I'm not sure about the subscriptions, as I don't use such features myself. I used to through Google, but for some reason the feeds were always getting screwed up. I have thought about parallel e-mail distribution like Alex Eames appears to be doing now, but at the moment that's just an idle thought for which I haven't had time to develop the technical infrastructure. I'll ask around and see if I can find a better way.

    @D.: Some people say similar things about the reported BDÜ rates for German to English, which are, however, quite plausible. My own agency rates tend to be significantly higher (it helps to deal with agencies that attract a good clientele and can negotiate), whereas a few other categories are a bit higher than I typically charge. But the ten-centers all say "no way that can be true!" The five translators reporting for Russian are most likely qualified specialists in some way, court sworn or whatever. Many end clients and some agencies understand that a translator living in Germany can barely pay basic expenses at 11 cents per word, so the rates a translator in Smolensk might charge are irrelevant. In fact, I know two decent translators for Russian locally; one charges about this rate and the other charges more than I do. And gets it easily. But she's highly qualified and probably a damned good writer too, though my Russian is so lousy that I cannot judge that.

  4. Thanks Kevin!
    It would be great if I could receive your entries directly in my inbox! =]

  5. Hi

    I am not much aware about other things mention by you but would like to know if you could help me give your thought regarding

    "if I need a translation from German into Malay, I might have more options if I take the German > English > Malay route rather than go directly from German to Malay"

    My question is does it a good idea going by German > English > Malay route to get translate the document into Malay, will we get the good quality output by this method or by translating directly through German to Malay ? I also discuss the same with others, they prefer to go by German>English>Malay method as they feel that translating directly may cause quality as there are some terms in both languages you can not extract directly by using English does help

    What do you think about the same.

  6. @ST: What do I think? That I don't quite understand your question, mostly. Google Translate is a lousy mediator. The "gateway language" technique is used by quite a number of professional organizations I respect for reasons that are clear and plausible. I don't think the actual characteristics of German or Malay, for example, are at issue. A good translator can bridge any of that. But how many good German-to-Malay translators are there in the world, and how much capacity do they have? What about English to Malay by comparison? It's mostly a matter of resource availability.


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