The Real Cost of Customized NMT

Researched and written by Jan Hofmeister and Roman Civin.


If you're overwhelmed by all the information on different machine translation (MT) options and cost factors, use the handy interactive calculator tool to break down costs based on your unique needs. Plug in your numbers and get a quick custom cost analysis - using a comparable denominator.

Understanding Machine Translation Costs

To understand machine translation costs, let’s break it down to simple options:

  • Generic MT engines are easy to use, but quality varies.
  • MT, traditionally customized via regular pre-training tailored to your business jargon, gives better translations but costs more upfront.
  • Adaptive MT automatically improves over time based on your feedback and is more flexible than custom engines.
  • Large language models (LLMs) are cutting-edge but still new and need strong guidance for best results.
  • Combining LLMs with neural MT (NMT) is where it's at for top efficiency.

Think fixed AND variable costs

Fixed and variable costs must be considered when choosing the right machine translation method for your budget. Fixed costs include domain-specific content translation, language count, engine training frequency, and ongoing management expenses. Variable costs are tied to the annual translation volume. Essentially, MT customization costs go beyond the direct training fees, covering a spectrum of related activities and requiring a significant resource investment for comprehensive management.

Use Cases

Understanding MT costs is crucial for efficient resource allocation in language projects. Here's a breakdown of four typical cases as ballpark cost estimates:

  • Generic commercial MT engine: 10 million words/year, MT management ➔ USD 2,100 annual cost
  • Adaptive MT engine: 10 million words/year, MT management ➔ USD 6,000 annual cost
  • MT from LLM: 10 million words/year, MT management, prompting ➔ USD 8,000 annual cost
  • Customized MT: 10 million words/year, 2 domains, 10 languages ➔ USD 23,000 annual cost

These examples highlight the varying financial implications of different MT technologies, aiding decision-makers in optimizing budgets for translation processes.

Let's Calculate Your Machine Translation Costs

How to use the MT cost calculator

Whether you're an experienced MT user or new to estimating the cost of customized NMT, this tool is designed to help you compare MT solutions effectively. By breaking down various cost factors and providing insights per 1000 source words, you can make informed decisions about your MT strategy. 

It is an active thinking process to check and ensure that you have included all relevant variables and costs in the calculator and that you estimate these realistically. 

By inputting values for the below parameters, you'll receive detailed insights into the cost implications of utilizing customized MT solutions. This calculator lets you compare different MT approaches, assess their affordability, and make informed decisions aligned with your organization's translation needs and budget.

Input Parameters

  1. Words Processed Per Year: Enter the total number of source words you process annually through machine translation.
  2. Distinct Content Domains: Content domains refer to specific categories or fields of content with distinct characteristics, purposes, and requirements. These domains encompass various subject areas, industries, or sectors, each with its unique audience, language, tone, and communication style. Various content domains can’t be mixed up when training a custom model.
  3. Number of Target Languages: Specify the target languages for which you'll create custom MT models.
  4. Number of MT Model Trainings Per Year: Custom MT models require regular updates to accommodate changes in terminology, language style, and other factors impacting translation quality.
  5. Cost of Customized MT models: This represents the expense paid to MT providers for creating and maintaining customized models.
  6. Cost of Pre- and Post-Processing Tasks: Include costs associated with MT training processes, such as bilingual content preparation, TM cleaning, model validation, deployment, and setup in TMS (Translation Management Systems).
  7. Annual Costs Related to Customized MT Models: Estimate annual expenses associated with managing and monitoring custom MT models, including quality assurance, TMS integration, and managing Machine Translation Post-Editing discounts.
  8. Cost for 1M of MT Characters: Determine the cost per one million characters the MT provider processes.

Put the Calculator to Work For You!

It only takes a few minutes to plug in your specific numbers to generate a customized cost analysis.

Don't keep these important findings to yourself – we highly recommend taking a screenshot of the output page to share with your boss or clients. Seeing an accurate financial projection based on your actual translation data will help gain their support for optimizing your MT strategy. Use Win+Shift+S on Windows / CMD+Shift+S+4 on Mac to take the snapshot of your calculation.

All costs are in USD. We do not store any data input in or produced by the calculator. 

Maximizing the Value of Machine Translation

There is no one-size-fits-all machine translation solution. Careful consideration of your specific translation goals, content, and budget is required. While generic engines provide a simple starting point, customized approaches can better optimize quality outcomes at the cost of… well, cost. 

However, the translation landscape is constantly evolving. Hybrid methods leveraging the strengths of different technologies, like pairing LLMs with traditional MT, may unlock even greater potential. Adaptive systems also ensure your translation assets keep pace with changing needs.

Most importantly, expert guidance can help you navigate this complexity to extract maximum value from your MT investment. An effective strategy considers immediate and long-term requirements to support your workflows now and in the future.

Rather than viewing MT costs as expenses, see them as opportunities. Proper optimization streamlines translation processes, freeing up resources for your core business. Partners with a nuanced understanding of the latest techniques facilitate more informed choices in solutions and oversight.

Exploring Alternatives to Customized MT: Adaptive MT and LLMs

The rest of the report can be accessed online by Nimdzi's membership clients.

If you are not a client, but would like to discuss the results of your calculation with Jan

The article was researched and written by Nimdzi's Technology Consultant, Jan Hofmeister.

The article was co-written by Nimdzi's Head of Consulting, Roman Civin.

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