Everything you need to know about
Arabic translation rates before you hire
Are you looking for a professional Arabic translation service? If so, you’re probably wondering how much it will cost. Whether we work together or not on your Arabic translation project, I hope this guide will give you the information you need to avoid some of the common pitfalls we see over and over.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out directly via the information below.
Table of Contents
What services do you need?
As you start, it’s important to gather some information about your project so you can select the right linguist(s). These are:
- Who is the intended audience? (country, age range, educational / professional background)
- What file format do you need the translations in (Word, PDF, subtitled video, dubbed video, website, etc)
- Do the files contain specialized topics (technical terms, legal language, etc)
- How long is the document and how soon do you need it?
- What level of quality do you need? Is this an important file where small errors in meaning or the wrong style could have a huge impact? Or do you just need to get a gist?
- Do you need certification for the translation? If so, in which jurisdiction?
If you don’t have all this information yet, don’t worry! It’s not all necessary to get started. But having more of these facts ready will help you get an exact quote and set your project up for success.
Which Arabic dialect?
Arabic is not a monolithic language.
Depending on who you ask, there are as many as thirteen local dialects. On top of this, there is Modern Standard Arabic (fusha) which is an educated Arabic used in formal situations. So depending on your goals, you will need to make sure you and your translator agree on the right variety to use.
We have included a third category in between MSA and local dialects called “Locally Inflected Modern Standard.” This is because there are some subtle but important differences in how formal Arabic is used from country to country. This largely has to do with style and terminology.
To give a slightly imperfect example: imagine you are reading a translated document and see the term “U.S. Ministry of Foreign Affairs” instead of State Department. You would probably see this as a sign that the translator was unfamiliar with American English. Of course, “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” is a perfectly correct term for this body in some countries. However, it is wrong in the American context. This is what we mean by “locally inflected,” that the translator is familiar with how the language is used in a particular country or region.
The table below gives examples of many common file types and what variety of Arabic we suggest.
|Modern Standard Arabic (Fusha)
|Locally Inflected Modern Standard
How to set your Arabic translation budget?
No discussion of price can take place outside the question of value.
“Value” means weighing the benefits of getting a translation done right and on time versus the risks of getting it wrong. These risks could be financial, legal, reputation, or the time and hassle of having to re-do the work.
Say you are reading Twitter and an Arab politician tweets a statement. In this case, using Google Translate to get a quick gist or a low cost translator is fine.
- But what if you’re launching an Arabic section of your website?
- Submitting a multi-million dollar bid package?
- Translating files for a legal case?
- Preparing a client presentation?
In these cases – and many others – translation can make the difference between success and failure. Being late or getting a critical detail wrong could cost your organization many times more than what you are paying the translator. Don’t believe me? Read our telecom case study here.
There are also reputational costs to consider. Sloppy translation on your website or marketing materials will slowly bleed your credibility in the eyes of your clients, or even worse, cause direct offense.
The worst part? No one will ever tell you this. The phone will ring a bit less. Email traffic will slow down. Your organization’s reputation slowly decays word by poorly-translated word.
Once you have an idea of the quality you need, it’s time to understand the different pricing options.
Service levels & factors that affect pricing
The most important thing you need to know about Arabic translation pricing is how the translation process impacts quality. Let’s review the main options:
Accuracy: Low, unless text is very simple
Market Price: Free
Google Translate is instant and free. What’s not to love? But if you have ever used it to read a foreign news article or web page, you know that you do not get an accurate, polished output.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with machine translation in some cases. It is great when you need to get a quick sense of what something says. But we do not recommend machine translation for anything that will be public. Industry Arabic does not provide machine translation services, and we do not allow our translators to use it.
Why do we do this? The most common error that machine translation makes is in picking the right meaning from many options. For example, think of the English word “red.” Simple, right? But does it mean the color? What about danger (red zone)? Or does it refer to areas where the U.S. Republican party is popular (red states) or does it mean communist (red scare)? You see, in Arabic these would all be translated using completely different words because the Arabic word for red (أحمر) does not carry all of these meanings.
In short, computers struggle to understand your document’s context and pick the correct meaning from all the dictionary options. To see how this works in the real world, see our article on the top 20 most hilarious translation fails.
Human edited machine translation
Accuracy: Can be better than machine translation, but prone to systematic errors
Market Price: 4-12 cents per word
Some companies start by putting your files through machine translation and then use human editors to clean them up. The industry term for this is “machine translation post editing.”
The problem is that the humans often trust the robots too much and do not edit enough to make the text sound natural in the target language.
An example: good Arabic writing tends to follow the [verb, subject, object] pattern while in English it goes [subject, verb, object]. In both languages, there are no hard rules about this and writers often play with word order for emphasis or other effect.
Machine translation, however, tends to keep sentence elements in the same order. And we’ve found that human translators editing the machine output are hesitant to totally re-structure the whole sentence to save time and effort. As a result, the style of post-edited machine translation can often feel “robotic” even though it has been reviewed by a human.
The use of mechanical translation glossaries compounds this problem. These tools insert previously translated language into files automatically. In this way, a one-time error can be multiplied infinitely across many different projects.
To make matters worse, we have found that the best human translators, the ones who take the time to research terms properly and re-flow the language so it reads smoothly do not work any faster (or more cheaply) when correcting machine translation.
Because of this “worst of both worlds” effect, we never recommend clients adopt this strategy. In fact, we call this the #1 Arabic translation project killer because fixing these types of projects is the most common way we get new clients. They come to us to fix a trainwreck of a translation that someone thought could be quickly (and cheaply) polished into a masterpiece.
Individual human translators
Accuracy: Wide range
Market Price: 1 – 20 cents per word
Have you ever translated a document yourself? If so, you know that there is a huge difference between understanding the meaning of a text and being able to translate it fast and accurately. Human translation is just like any professional skill: there is a wide range of talent levels and prices.
On websites like Upwork or Fiverr, you can find translators who will do your project for one or two cents per word. Curious, we tested them ourselves. What did we find?
The result was translation that is the same or worse than machine translation. Here is why:
Extremely inexpensive translators are not making a living wage – even in places with a low cost of living. They need to churn through projects as fast as possible to scrape by. They do not have the time to research a tricky expression or double check the style before submitting. These translators often reject projects they see as too difficult, or accept them and then quit once they run into trouble.
On the other end of the spectrum you have professional translators. Many have Bachelors or Masters degrees in translation (although many excellent linguists have no background in translation studies). They know their topics well and have the curiosity and research ability to figure out tricky expressions.
Are there any downsides to using skilled human translators? Well, they can make meaning mistakes, typos, or let things slip through the cracks. They may not be familiar with your subject matter. They could be busy on other projects (the best translators often are). Or they could have an emergency or just not deliver fast enough.
Expert human translation with editorial review
Market Price Range: 12-38 cents per word
How do you get the benefits of elite human translators while avoiding the pitfalls outlined above? The key is to first select the best translators for the project, and to use a second linguist to review their work before submission.
This is the “gold standard” for translation quality that was enshrined in the ISO 17100 standard (Industry Arabic holds this certification). By using two skilled linguists on each project, it is possible to increase quality and accuracy while reducing typos.
This is where Industry Arabic operates. Over time, we’ve found that it’s the only way to ensure quality translation, at scale.
This is what many of the big translation agencies do, but we have found a way to achieve even better quality while reducing the cost by up to 57% compared to the big agencies.
The Industry Arabic service level
For most agencies – the ones who offer every language on earth – Arabic is just one of the dozens of languages they deal with every day. Project managers might not speak Arabic at all or understand the specific country or field.
In short, dealing with a large translation agency that doesn’t know the ins and outs of Arabic is a huge risk…
At Industry Arabic, all we do is Arabic.
This means all our project managers are English-Arabic bilingual. This has allowed us to put together a team with unmatched depth and expertise across the Arab region and subject matter areas.
Let’s say you have a Moroccan legal document for translation to English.
Your file would likely go to Michael. He’s a senior linguist with a Masters in Arabic translation who has spent years in Morocco and translated for top law firms.
It would then go to Perla, a native Arabic speaker with a Masters in translation to make sure that no subtleties of the original Arabic were missed.
Or perhaps you have a Powerpoint presentation for a member of the Saudi Royal Family. It might go to Nabiha, one of our Saudi Arabic specialists.
Carole, a former U.N. translator who specializes in formatting Powerpoint graphics to match Arabic’s right-to-left orientation, would edit the file before submission.
These are just a few examples of the care we take to make sure that your project goes to the right linguists who can give it the attention it deserves.
And because we specialize in just one language, we can get large files translated much faster than our competitors in extreme rush situations, and with consistently great quality.
What’s more, we aim to submit “print ready” work to our clients the first time, every time. This means that we would be comfortable with our clients sending our work to the printer, submitting it to their own clients, or hitting “publish” on their website without any other edits.
Here’s another way we save you time and money: some agencies charge you separately for translation, editing and formatting. We do not. If you work with Industry Arabic, the following services are included in our base rates:
- Translation by an expert human translator. We match our translators to your project based on subject matter & regional expertise. They are not allowed to use machine translation tools.
- Editing and proofreading by an independent translator to ensure the text is accurate, the correct research has been done, and is in an appropriate style.
Formatting to match the source text as closely as possible using MS Office or Google.
- Any edits requested after the translation is submitted.
This results in a somewhat higher initial price than individual freelancers, or some other agencies who charge for editing, formatting, and translation separately. But we believe it’s a very fair price if you consider the overall costs and quality you get in return.
Proof our system works
At this point you might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but how do I know this isn’t all marketing hype?”
There are several ways you can hear from our clients and get a firsthand look at our work.
- Unfiltered Reviews: You can read reviews clients have left on our Google business page. We are not able to remove or alter them in any way. This is also a great way to evaluate other service providers (and you don’t need to speak a word of Arabic) Read our reviews here.
- Industry Case Studies: Wondering if we have experience in your field? Here is a long list of case studies organized by topic. You can also see links to translations we have done at this page. Read case studies here.
- Free Sample: Do you have a large project? We are happy to do a free translation sample so you can compare on quality, not just price. Get in touch here.
Would you like to get a free time and cost quote for your project? Go here.
Industry Arabic’s pricing structure
Industry Arabic provides professional Arabic translation services for both one-time and large/ongoing projects. The pricing for these projects is determined based on the length of the document, the complexity of the text, and the urgency of the deadline.
One-time projects refer to short, one-off projects such as translating a birth certificate, diploma, or other single documents. The following table outlines the flat-rate, prepaid pricing structure for one-time projects:
|Under 500 words
Note: Certification includes a stamped, notarized letter attesting to the translation’s accuracy and costs an additional $50 fee which includes Priority Mail postage of your documents to any U.S. address.
Large or ongoing projects
Large or ongoing projects refer to translating a long report, a stream of news articles, or a book. Industry Arabic charges 16 – 23 cents (USD) per word for translation for large or ongoing projects. General materials such as conference agendas and news articles fall on the lower end of this spectrum, while documents requiring more specialization such as legal, scientific, and handwritten texts fall on the higher end.
Other factors that impact Industry Arabic pricing
In addition to the word count, other factors can affect Industry Arabic’s pricing for translation services, including rush rates, volume discounts, and add-on services.
- Rush Rates
If you need a large project completed faster than the normal turnaround time of 2,000 words per business day, a rush fee of 25% will be added. To ensure timely delivery, Industry Arabic splits large files between many translators and has an editor put them together, ensuring consistency in style, word choice, and formatting.
- Volume Discounts
Industry Arabic offers volume discounts for individual projects or yearly contracts over 200,000 words. Contact them to discuss your situation.
- Add-On Services
Industry Arabic offers a range of add-on services that are priced separately, including certification, InDesign layout, graphic design, font selection or design, web design, and editing. These services are priced on a custom basis according to the complexity of the project.
The following table outlines the pricing for Industry Arabic’s most common add-on services:
|$50 (includes postage)
|Starts at $15 per page
|Starts at 8 cents per word
Note: All translation services include translation, editing by a second expert linguist, formatting in MS Office to match the source text as closely as possible, and any edits you may need after delivery. The add-on services do not impact the quality and usability of the translated document.
How to get bids, evaluate quotes, and vet providers
Perhaps your organization has decided to run a bidding process, or needs to collect several quotes before selecting a translation vendor.
You may be wondering the best way to evaluate quotes when there are so many different options out there. Here’s our best advice on that:
Bid Must Haves. A bid document has exactly two jobs: to explain what service and quality level is needed so that vendors can quote accurately; and to collect the data that will help you make an informed choice. One mistake we see over and over in formal bid processes is recycling bloated and out-of-date templates. In most cases these are a waste of time for everyone involved. 99% of all translation RFPs could be boiled down to one or two pages. In our experience the most important pieces of information to get are past performance, client references or reviews, and a translation sample, with the third being by far the most important. After all, the best way to know if someone can perform your job is to ask them to show you.
Eliminate the Lowballs. Once you have your bids, it’s time to evaluate them. For the reasons mentioned above, we recommend ruling out quotes in the single-digit cents per word range unless quality absolutely doesn’t matter. It’s just not worth the time and hassle of having to re-do a poorly done translation. In our experience, translators in this range are using machine translation and not telling you, or not able to devote the time and attention needed to produce great work.
Evaluate on Quality, Not Just Price. For the remaining quotes, higher cost does not necessarily mean higher quality. Maybe the higher priced companies are forced to charge more to afford their downtown office spaces or other overhead costs. The only real way to compare is on quality. Ask them to complete a free sample of your project to be reviewed for quality. Having a colleague who speaks Arabic review the samples will ensure that you’re not overpaying for poor work. While this is a bit more work, it could save you a huge amount of time and hassle later. You can also look to reviews from past clients to get an idea of the quality level. You can read our unfiltered Google reviews here.
Compare Apples to Apples. Translation prices are usually quoted on a per word or per page basis. But, beware, not all words are created equal! Our quotes always include translation, editing by a second translator, formatting, any edits needed after document delivery. Other companies charge each of these services separately. If you are comparing quotes, then, you will need to take this into account.
The service level (includes translator skill, editing process, and formatting) that you choose will be the main determinant of cost. However there are several other factors to consider as well. Some of these can differ between providers and make quotes hard to compare side by side. We break them down here, with what to watch out for.
- Source Text vs Target Text. In any translation project, there are two documents involved: the document that you are translating (source text) and the translated document (target text). It is standard to charge by the source wordcount. This way, you will know the exact cost before starting, and the translator will not be tempted to inflate the word count by adding fluff. The usual exception to this is for photos, PDFs, handwriting, and other documents where it is impossible to get an automatic word count. In these cases we charge by the target word count.
- Per word vs Per Page Pricing. At Industry Arabic, we charge by the word. We believe this is the most fair way to measure work because there is no standard for what constitutes a page. Some will say a standard page is 200 words or 250 words. But in the real world, a “page” may have no words at all, or more than a thousand words.
- Formatting, Desktop Publishing (DTP), InDesign. This is a common area for confusion. Some service providers charge separately for formatting (sometimes called desktop publishing). We do not, as we do this, as we believe a professional translation includes making the translated document look and feel as close to the original as possible. For this reason, we include formatting (matching the source text with any fonts, colors, graphics, or other features within MS Office apps) for free with all our translation projects. For highly polished reports prepared with Adobe InDesign, we offer an additional layout service that is charged on a per page basis. If you are ever confused about what formatting service you are getting, you should ask “What exactly does formatting include?” when you’re getting a project set up with your translator.
At this point, I hope you have a better understanding of how our small corner of the translation industry works. If you’ve decided what you need is a premium, Arabic specialist for your project, it’s time for us to chat.
To connect with one of our team members for a personalized time/cost quote, just click the orange button in the top or bottom of our website and fill out the form. We will be back in touch within 20 minutes during business hours (or the next business day if outside). All the information you send will be considered strictly confidential. Once we receive your quote request, our translation manager will review the files, and send you a time and cost quote (usually within 30 minutes).
But there’s one more thought I want to leave you with:
Many people believe today — with whiz bang AI and machine learning — that translation has been digitized and process-ized and is now a product you can buy “off the shelf.” Just like restocking La Croix for your office supply room.
This just isn’t true.
- Try putting some text through Google Translate and send it to an Arabic-speaking colleague.
- Or take a look at the grammar and style on other translation companies’ websites.
At the end of the day — if you want your message to resonate — you need to work with translators who understand that it is a skilled human craft.
It comes down to little choices. Does your translator bother to spend a few extra minutes looking up a tricky expression? Do they understand the subtleties of the Saudi dialect? Do they have a colleague they trust to triple-check the style on a difficult passage?
These are the tiny choices that, like grains of sand, pile up to make a huge difference. If we are fortunate enough to work with you, our team will give your project the level of care and attention it deserves. And we won’t stop until you are 100% happy with our work.
If you have any questions, or want to discuss the specifics of your project, please click the button below and we will get back to you ASAP.
Founder, Industry Arabic