This is a request we received last week. The answer was yes, you can, but not with us. Whereas the client wanted to pay $5, we offered $60 per page—12 times more than he expected. Thankfully, we do not get many such requests, or else we would either have to be rude ignoring them or spend time unproductively explaining the prices to each potential client. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to write this article in the hope that people expecting bargain-basement prices will read it before contacting us or any similar translation agency.
First and foremost, as with most things in life, cheap translation equals low quality. One page is at least one hour of work. $5 per page translates into an hourly rate of $5. Can you get decent service for that rate today? I do not think so.
If you want good quality, forget about bargain-basement prices. If you are fine with poor translation, then go for it by all means, but follow the tips below to avoid wasting your time contacting professional service providers who will definitely turn your offer down (and some will probably chase you with dogs).
You need to find a so-called hobby translator. Whereas with pros, translation is what they do for a living; hobby translators have a different profession and use translation as a way to make a quick buck in their spare time. Because they do not translate on a day-to-day basis, they have less knowledge and experience. They know this and charge much less than their professional colleagues, realizing they cannot ask for more. At the same time, they unsurprisingly believe that at this level of pay, they are not expected to do a good job, and they do not feel any responsibility for the translation as a result.
It is in your best interest not to contact translation agencies. Agencies have a markup, resulting in a higher price that is unlikely to meet your budget. Also, unlike hobby translators, many agencies actually care about their reputation and will not sacrifice it for a quick-and-dirty profit.
The best way to find hobby translators is through translator websites such as Proz.com. Try posting your job there and wait for replies from those interested in your offer. This is completely free and very effective, since you only post your job and get, say, 10 offers, instead of sending the job to 100 translators manually to get the same 10 offers.
As a matter of fact, you might even get lucky and engage a not-so-bad translator. To do so, you need a combination of two factors. First, your job must be large to be attractive enough. Second, that translator must be desperate for money at the moment. To catch such person may require waiting patiently and posting your job several times.
This is my favorite option. If you use an online translator such as Google Translate, you do not even need to spend time looking for a translator. Can you get the same quality from Google Translate as from a bad human translator? Yes, I believe that the quality is pretty much the same. Both make many errors, and if you are fine with errors, there might be not much difference for you in terms of quality. But there are obvious advantages to GT in terms of time and money.
For more translator selection tips, read the article “Sample Translations Don’t Mean a Thing.”