Document Translation

How Long Does it Take to Translate 500 Words?

Document Translation

Translating your content is the first step to conquering a global market. While English is widely spoken and many people have a good grasp of it as a second language, studies show that consumers and website users feel more comfortable browsing and shopping in their own language. In fact, 40% state that they’ll never buy from a website that uses a language different from their own. Statistics like this show just how important the translation industry has become. However, navigating it can be a minefield. While it’s hard to give a definitive answer as to how long it takes to translate 500 words, it’s helpful to know what factors affect translation speeds when you’re looking at pricing. Our guide should help you compare your quotes more effectively.

The 4 key elements that determine translation turnaround times

1. Word count

The baseline for setting a quote for a translation project is the number of words in the text submitted – the word count. Usually, it’s the words in the original or source document that are counted. There are, however, a few exceptions to this. With source languages such as Hebrew, Japanese, or Arabic, counting the source words can be problematic so the quote may be based on the target language. When English or German, for example, are being translated into wordier languages such as Portuguese or Spanish, the number of words in the target language may also be used. Also, the text volume and the quality level required for the target text as well as repetition, deadlines, and document complexity all affect the final cost per word. A higher volume along with repetitions can reduce the cost while complexity and deadlines can raise it. Most agencies and freelance translators also have a minimum fee policy for translation services. This is usually around $20. 

2. Translation speed

When working on fairly basic documents, it’s generally accepted that an experienced and professional translator should feel comfortable translating 2,000 – 2,500 words daily while maintaining a high standard. For complex documents, this would fall to between 1,000 and 1,500 words. Translation speed can be accelerated if an agency splits the work between two or more linguists. This does, however, affect the final amount you pay. 

Based on these figures and taking into account, proofreading and reviewing most freelance translators or translation agencies offer the following turnaround times.

Word count                Expected turnaround time
< 1,000 1 – 2 days
1,000 – 3,000 2 – 3 days
3,000 – 4,0003 – 4 days
4,000 – 5,0004 – 5 days

If a translator or agency offers to translate your content at a rate higher than 3,500 – 4,000 words a day, it’s wise to question the quality of their work. Language translation involves concentration and can be very taxing so most freelance translators limit their daily working hours to between five and six, interspersing them with frequent breaks. If your content is for internal use only and budget constraints are more important than the final quality, it might be possible to accept a lower quote based on a higher word-per-day rate.

3. Project complexity

Straightforward text that doesn’t involve technical terms or require technical knowledge is the easiest and, therefore, the fastest to translate. Documents such as those relating to medical, legal, financial, automotive, gaming, and engineering services and industries require professional translators with the relevant background and experience. These translators can set a higher rate for their skills. 

Other elements such as video content and voice-overs can add time and cost to a project. If graphics and images need editing or photos need captioning, specialized software may be required to capture and edit them. Freelance translators have to buy and know how to use this software while agencies will add a premium for these services. There will also be extra costs if videos and voice-overs are part of your content.

4. Resources that speed up translation

  • Translation Memory (TM) software: If a translator is able to use previous words, phrases, or blocks of translations with only minor amendments this speeds up the translation process. TM is able to identify these repetitions, either 100% identical ones or those with lots of similarities – fuzzy matches
  • Machine translation tools: Computers are capable of automatically translating from one language to another (Google Translate or Babelfish, for example). They provide a great tool for getting an overview or general understanding of a text but are rarely up to professional translation standards without human input. Machine translation has its uses in some areas such as regular and similar translation in technical fields. Post-editing is always required and, generally, machine translation is not suitable for legal documents, certified translations, or marketing materials that need a creative touch
  • Translation teams: Using more than one translator on a text speeds up the project turnaround, reducing the time it takes to translate 500 words. However, it’s not as simple as saying that two translators halve the translation time. Style guides and glossaries of keywords and other terms, as well as proofreaders and reviewers, are needed to maintain consistency in style and content


What is the average translation speed?

Depending on the languages and complexity involved, an average daily translation speed for a professional translator should be between 2,000 and 2,500 words. If the translator works a six-hour day, their hourly speed works out at 300 to 400 words. Bear in mind, as well, that longer documents need more time as the translator won’t be able to complete them in one working day.

How long does it usually take to translate 500 words?

Assuming a professional translator can work on up to 2,500 words a day, it should take between one hour and one and a half hours to translate 500 words of a simple document. Reviewing and editing add extra time.

Does it cost more if a quick turnaround time is required?

It’s wise to plan ahead as an extra fee is always charged for short deadlines. The freelance translator or translation service may have to move other projects around to fit in your work. Or, they might have to work longer hours or unsocial hours to meet your deadline. This extra fee can be between 30% and 100% more than the regular per-word rate. There are also more likely to be mistakes and inconsistencies when translations are rushed.

Factors that can extend translation times

Projects involving more than one language

Many translation requests are from one source language to one target language but sometimes multi-language projects are required. With a team of translators and the aid of CAT tools, all of these languages can usually be translated simultaneously. This sort of project, however, does involve more administration, reviewing, and editing. This is reflected in extra time and cost. Reviewing and editing ensures there is consistency for content and context across the languages while localization teams ensure the laws and cultures of different countries and regions are respected. A project manager is a useful addition to the team when several languages are involved.

Complex or specialized subject matter

Translating a chatty letter or email, a simple product description, or a customer review is much more straightforward than getting a professional translation of technical manuals, medical articles, court documents, or training materials. Specialized knowledge and background experience are required and this is reflected in the price. More complex work also takes longer to do. There can be as much as a 100% price differential between the two types of work.

The review and approval processes

To ensure your translation is high-quality, your free quote should include elements of review and approval. A professional freelance translator factors in time for re-reading and reshaping their text, often returning to it a few hours later or the following day. Most agencies use a proofreader or second translator to pick up any mistakes in translation, meaning, or grammar. This second review is essential for vital content such as business contracts and court papers. This review and approval process usually adds around 30% to the cost of translation time, slightly more if a certified translation is needed.

To ensure you get the best translation for your needs, choose a service such as BLEND Express. We are familiar with all types of translations and provide a range of services from speedy turnarounds to fully reviewed and certified translations. Our team of 25,000+ linguists can work in over 120 languages while project managers add value to your content by pointing out issues you may not have considered. To get started with a high-quality translation today, all you have to do is click here.

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author post

Corinne Sharabi

Corinne is the Social Media and Content Lead at BLEND. She is dedicated to keeping global business professionals up to date on all things localization, translation, language and culture.


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