translating a German book
December 27, 2012 10:49 PM   Subscribe

I would like to have a book (in German, about 157 pp), translated for me. How much is a fair price to ask?

I would like to give it to one of these online services, but I have no idea what a fair price or a ripoff price for something like this would be.
posted by gnossie to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is the topic? Is it fiction? Non-fiction? Technical manuals?
posted by dunkadunc at 12:06 AM on December 28, 2012

posted by gnossie at 12:47 AM on December 28, 2012

Not sure what you mean by "online services" but there will be an actual professional translator doing the work, and it's possible to contact such people directly. A book of that size is probably several weeks' full-time work for the average pro translator so the fee should be commensurate with that. I translate for a living and would charge several thousand dollars for a short book. The exact fee would depend on the word count and other factors.

What I'd do in your position is contact several individuals who are specialised in history, using the directory of my national translation association, and ask them for quotes. You don't say where you are, though.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:19 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

In U.S.
posted by gnossie at 2:43 AM on December 28, 2012

If it's a difficult text, I tend to charge by hour. So, seconding altolinguistic, someplace around 'several thousand dollars' but with quite some flexibility. Generally spoken, translation rates for German to English are not among the expensive ones, though.
posted by Namlit at 2:44 AM on December 28, 2012

also, when was it originally published? Is is an academic historical text or eyewitness account of daily life during an historically significant period? Big difference in language used.

What exactly do you need it for? You want to re-publish, or just get the gist to see if it tallies with something else?
posted by Wilder at 3:04 AM on December 28, 2012

I'd say it's an "eyewitness account of daily life during an historically significant period" using everyday language from the 1940's.

Currently there is no thought of publication.

The reason for the translation is that it's a book my mom has said she's like to read before she dies, only she doesn't read German and no translation of it into English has ever been published.
posted by gnossie at 3:10 AM on December 28, 2012

Is it something she would like to read herself, or would she be content with having it read to her? It seems short enough that you might be able to find (Craigslist?) a German/English speaker to read aloud to her, translating on the fly. You could even do this on Skype. If she would be satisfied with this, I'll bet it would be super cheap compared to an official translation.
posted by apparently at 4:24 AM on December 28, 2012

Would Google Translate do a good enough translation for your purposes? You might try typing in a page or two just to see how well it turns out. Also, is it possible that the book is already available in Google Books, or online through some other service where an automated translation might be possible?
posted by DarkForest at 5:38 AM on December 28, 2012

No, the book is super-rare and I am paying book search services to find it to begin with.

As for using Google Translate, I might. Several thousand dollars for a translation is not what I was expecting to hear. I might run it through Google Translate, and, in conjunction with a semster of German, a good desk dictionary, and a message board somewhere, concoct a passable translation myself. That was always Plan B.

But that would take a few months, for sure. And Mom is old so the rush is on.
posted by gnossie at 5:43 AM on December 28, 2012

Without knowing how much text is on your average page it's hard to give a good estimate. An English-language mass market paperback will run about 250 English words a page. Assuming a similar density I think you would be looking at a fee of around $3-4,000 as a very ballpark figure (the lower end being for an online service like One Hour Translation). If you have the book now you can always request a quote for a few pages at a place like OHT and use that to get a more accurate estimate.

One way you might be able to approach this to bring the price down a bit is to post a job ad on a place like asking for someone to do what I would call "minimal post-editing" on a Google Translate machine translation. Make it clear that you only need it reviewed for basic meaning and not for the finer points of grammar or literary art. The feasibility of this approach depends a good deal on the quality of the initial OCR and so it might be better to also outsource the initial OCR to the translator as well (most of us will have professional OCR software and experience getting the best results for foreign language conversions). My guess (again, very ballpark because of the uncertainty of the actual volume of text) is that you could get quotes in the $1500-2000 range (basically half the price of a full translation)--maybe even a bit lower if you are very clear about your budget being very low and your post-editing requirements being very minimal.
posted by drlith at 6:20 AM on December 28, 2012

As to having the book scanned, OCR'd, and machine-translated: I need to point out that a German book of this vintage may well be printed in blackletter type, which I suspect might resist reliable OCRing.

And also, if the book is rare, it would be a damn shame to destroy it for the purposes of scanning—there are services that will scan and OCR a book for you, but they use sheetfed scanners, and chop the pages away from the binding to scan them.

As to translating: I'm a translator, and your surprise at its expense is no surprise to me. A lot of people seem to imagine that translating is no more than retyping. It's a slightly more mentally challenging and time-consuming activity. By way of comparison, just having this book retyped would probably cost ~$3/page (which still might be more than you'd want to pay to translate it).
posted by adamrice at 7:42 AM on December 28, 2012

I think drlith has it. Datapoint: I have a translator friend (for two languages, not german) who generally charges .04-.06 per word for translating to English. At .04/word, that's $1570. Granted, the text he starts with is electronic... Not sure if that saves time.
posted by mochapickle at 8:49 AM on December 28, 2012

As a further datapoint, mochapickle's friend is very cheap, even using electronic text.

I'm not trying to sell you my services, because I don't translate from German. If you hired a pro translator who specialises in history, you'd get a highly readable English translation and all the research into the tricky phrases from the time and country would have been done, meaning your mom could trust the result, and it would be enjoyable to read. The reader would not need to understand any German in order to appreciate the book. Achieving such a result takes skill and time, and therefore money.

But that might be overkill for your purposes, and how much you can save comes down to where you're prepared to compromise, really. Can your mom cope with Google Translate howlers? Does she know some German? If she does, she might be able to decode the original meaning even from an inadequate translation.

I looked in the ATA directory and found 20 vetted/certified translators who specialise in history.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:40 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You made me very curious. What is the name of the book? You can also PM me.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 5:33 PM on December 28, 2012

I will PM you.

The reason I do not clarify this in the thread is because my mother from time to time searches the internet on the hunt for an appearance or translation of the book, and I fear she might stumble onto this thread and thereby ruin her own surprise.
posted by gnossie at 6:54 PM on December 28, 2012

I'm not a professional translator, but I have translated material into English to allow my students to read it. I'd figure 300 words/hour - roughly one printed page, depending on the page size and the typeface - for translating. If I were doing the work professionally, I'd charge $20/hour, more or less, depending on the difficulty of the text. But I have a day job that pays benefits, so an independent translator might need to charge more. Without knowing more about the book (in particular, the page size and how dense the print is), $3000-4000 seems a fair price.

You are asking for 150 hours of skilled labor (more or less), after all.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:14 PM on December 28, 2012

As a further datapoint, mochapickle's friend is very cheap, even using electronic text.

Eeek, you are totally right, altolinguistic. I asked him again and his xlation rate is more like .12/word. The lower rate was for simpler editing work, apparently as a favor.
posted by mochapickle at 10:34 AM on January 8, 2013

« Older Help me figure out why some find me arrogant.   |   To apply as co-borrowers or not? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.