Posted by: patenttranslator | June 23, 2014

How Much Money Per Word Do Non-Translators Make?

Our clients often complain that translators charge too much. No matter how little we charge for our work, if translation costs more than copying something on a copy machine, it is much too expensive.

Since so many people seem to complain about the high rates that insolent translators dare to ask for “retyping a few pages in a different language”, pretty much regardless of whether we charge 5 cents or 50 cents per word, I thought it would be interesting to compare the per word rate that translators can charge with per word rates that non-translators can get away with these days.

According to this article in today’s Washington Post, Hillary Clinton’s fee per speech is “upward of 200,000 dollars”. Assuming that the speech is on average about 2,000 words long (I can’t imagine anybody listening to her without falling asleep if to were any longer), she makes about 100 dollars per word. Not bad for somebody who would never have become a candidate for the highest public office in the land had she not married a future president. Her husband, Bill Clinton, makes as much as 700,000 dollars per speech, which would translate into 350 dollars per word when the same criteria are applied to the precious words spoken by each of the spouses.

(Pay differences like these are a clear example of sexism in our society. No Fair!!!! Hillary should insist on equal pay for equal work, don’t you think?)

Depending on their celebrity status or the depth of their connections to one percenters, many non-translators can charge well over 100 thousand dollars for a short 15-minute college graduation speech, which would easily put actors such as Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington and celebrities like Stephen Colbert or Opra into the hundred bucks per word category.

Ben Bernanke, the former Federal Reserve Chairman, was paid “at least 250,000 dollars” (the exact sum is a closely guarded state and banking secret) for a talk to the Global Financial Markets forum in Abu Dhabi in March of this year.

Tim Geithner, the former Treasury Secretary, is also paid more than 100,000 dollars per speech, which means that based on the same criteria of an average of 2,000 words, it would be at least 50 bucks per word.

You can hire Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Larry Summers for 135,000 dollars (675 dollars per word) to give a talk at a gig at your place these days, although he used to charge only 45,000 dollars (225 dollars per word) years ago when he was just a lowly Wall Street consultant.

But none of these people, including Bill and Hillary, Opera, Larry Summers, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington or Ben Bernanke can possibly touch the kind of money that Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid on per word basis in the Terminator movies. The only thing that I can remember him saying in Terminator I, and I saw the movie twice, are his famous four words:”I’ll be back”.

Although I think that he said these words more than once, he couldn’t have spoken more than about 50 words in the whole movie. If he made 5 million dollars from that movie alone (which is probably a conservative estimate), he was paid a cool 100,000 dollars per word based on a per word rate, including grunts.


And now back to reality for the rest of us.

This morning I daringly charged 29 cents per word for my rush translation of a short Japanese patent. I generally charge less than that, this is my rush rate and I can get away with such a relatively high rate only some of the time.

I always give a client a generous discount for what I call non-rush rate because it gives me the time to fit in more work, and most of the time the client will choose the non-rush rate, although it generally means a significantly longer turnaround time.

Also, I can charge a relatively high rate like this only to a direct client. I charge quite a bit less to translation agencies because they need to make some money too.

People who know nothing about translating, which would be the majority of the people on this planet, may think that translators like myself are charging too much per word for translating into English something that was originally in Japanese, or German, or French or Russian.

All I can say is, everything is relative. Just look at how much Arnold Schwarzenegger is charging per word in his movies.


  1. Very good essay in putting things into perspective!


  2. Thank you very much, Jon!


  3. I was wondering if you meant 29 cents per word or per (japanese) character?


  4. Per word.


  5. Good example of the trend for an ever greater social divide between haves and have nots


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