How to Set a Budget for Language Access Services


One of the first steps in providing your community with the language access services they need is to figure out how much it will cost.

And that means getting an accurate understanding of costs so you can present a budget and get it approved.

In this blog post we’ll walk you through the process of scoping your language access requirements. 

Determine the languages you’ll need to support

First, you have to identify the people whom your organization serves who need assistance with language. Urban areas have greater diversity with immigrant and refugee communities, which means a wider range of spoken languages. For example, in New York City alone, over 200 languages are spoken. On the other hand, suburban and rural areas generally have fewer languages to consider.

Make a list of the language you need to cover and the approximate number of people per language who might need services from your organization. 

Here are some resources for you:

These can get you big-picture information, but your requirements may vary. For local specifics, you can:

  • Conduct a community survey to gain a comprehensive understanding of the specific language needs within your community.
  • Tap into useful internal data sources such as call center information, information provided by those requiring your services, and electronic health records.

Figure out touchpoints

People with varying levels of English proficiency will need language services at different times and in different ways during their interactions with your organization. You’ll need to assess where people interact with your organization and determine what kind of language services would be appropriate at each point of contact.

You can make a chart like the example below:

TouchpointLanguage access service
Scheduling services, call centers, hotlines, or information linesInterpretation Translation (call center scripts)
Reception area (checking in for an appointment)Translation (forms and signage)
PaperworkTranslation (applications, forms)
Online materials, like websitesTranslation
Outreach programs; community eventsInterpretation
Advertising or informational materialsTranslation (brochures)
In-person or phone appointmentsInterpretation

Defining the scope of language services for your organization

Two types of services are usually involved in language access: translation and interpretation. You will probably need to offer both. Let’s take a quick look at what each of these services entails and how you would price each.


In this service, professional bilingual interpreters convert speech from one language to another. Interpretation comes into play whenever a non-native speaker meets with a service provider such as a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, or a banker in person or on the phone.

You need to decide the type of interpretation you want to offer. Often, organizations use a combination of approaches to providing interpretation services.

The most common types of interpretation are:

  • Over-the-phone interpretation (OPI)
  • Video remote interpretation (VRI)
  • In-person

Determine how many hours per month each type of service will be required.

To figure out whether to staff or outsource interpretation ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have enough volume that it makes sense to hire a bilingual nurse, receptionist, or case worker? And how much would that cost?  This works if your population is mainly only 1 language.
  • Do you have so many languages to represent that the only feasible option is to partner with an agency?
  • Or can you outsource jobs to interpreters on your own for a limited number of languages?

For each language, find out the costs of:

  • freelance interpreters in each language (often hourly, per session, or by full/half day). A service provider such as MindLink can help you work through these costs.
  • a full-time bilingual practitioner to do the job you require plus provide language skills

The pricing of interpretation services varies depending on several factors, including:

  • Type of interpretation: In-person interpretation is typically the most expensive option, followed by video remote interpretation (VRI) and telephone interpreting (TI).
  • Length of the interpretation: The longer the interpretation, the higher the cost.
  • Language pair: Some language pairs are more common and therefore have lower rates than others.
  • Experience of the interpreter: More experienced interpreters typically charge higher rates.
  • Location: Interpreters who work in high-demand areas, such as major cities or hospitals, may charge higher rates.
  • Urgency: Interpreters who are available on short notice may charge a higher rate.

In person interpretation is usually charged by the hour, and VRI by the minute.

There may be additional fees for:

  • Travel: If the interpreter needs to travel to the interpretation location, there will be a travel fee.
  • Equipment: If the interpreter needs to provide equipment, such as a headset or a video conferencing system, there may be an equipment rental fee.
  • Taxes: There may be taxes added to the base rate and any additional fees.


Translation focuses on written communication. In translation, a professional linguist converts a text from one language into another. It is often thought of as a one-to-one exchange from one language to another, a literal transfer of meaning from one language to the next.

To figure out what documents to translate, organizations should consider which documents are “vital” documents, or those that “contain information that is critical for obtaining services and/or benefits.” Vital documents may include:

  • Application forms, including those for benefits
  • Consent forms, including consent to treat, release of information, or consent to immunize
  • Complaint forms
  • Legal forms
  • Eligibility forms
  • Financial payment policies
  • Patient rights and responsibilities
  • Signage, notices
  • Intake/information forms
  • Patient instructions

As an organization you must decide based on the importance of the content or event, based on your budget, and based on the law, which points of contact you will provide language services for.

Typically, the pricing for translation is by the word, with additional fees for file prep, engineering, desktop publishing, and project management.

Putting it all together

Once you’ve answered the above questions, your best bet is to engage a language services provider who can assess your needs and quote you the total costs for translation and interpreting services. A provider can help you identify cost efficiencies, tools to use, and ideal resources for your program.  Connect with us here to talk through your language access scope.

Once you have your budget understood and approved, you’re on your way to providing timely and helpful language services to those in your community whose English isn’t proficient.

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