Volume 13, No. 4 
October 2009

  Afnan Fatani


Front Page

Select one of the previous 49 issues.

Index 1997-2009

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
In Less Than Twenty Words!
by Pimpi Coggins
Gabe Bokor for ATA Treasurer
by Gabe Bokor

  From the Editor
The Big Five-O (bis)
by Gabe Bokor

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
I Want the Credits for my Translation!
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Translators Around the World
The State of the Translation Industry in Saudi Arabia
by Afnan H. Fatani

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Cross-Cultural Communication and Translation
by Forogh Karimipur Davaninezhad

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
How To Translate Personal Names
by Behnaz Sanaty Pour

  Medical Translation
'Death Panels'—Say What!!?
by Rafael A. Rivera, M.D., FACP

  Science & Technology
Translating a Patent: Translator's Templates
by Kriemhild (Karen) Zerling

  Legal Translation
Interdisciplinariedad y ubicación macrotextual en traducción jurídica
Dr. Fernando Prieto Ramos

  Translation and Politics
Revolutionary Struggle as a Counterpoint to Colonial Domination: Marathi Translations of Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck
by Sunil Sawant

  Literary Translation
Teaching Evaluation of Classical Chinese Poetry Translation
by Chen Qiujin

  Book Review
A review of The Distaff & the Pen—French Women Poets of Nine Centuries, selected and translated by Norman R. Shapiro
by Robert Paquin, Ph.D.
A Comparative Review of Two Monolingual Dictionaries of the English Language
by Joana Rek-Harrop

  Translators' Tools
CAT Tools für Anfänger
von Lucia Gocci,
CAT Tools for Beginners
by Lucia Gocci, translated by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Los otros asesores de los traductores y redactores médicos: Asociaciones, foros y blogs
M. Blanca Mayor Serrano, Ph.D.
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Translators around the World

The State of the Translation Industry in Saudi Arabia

by Afnan H. Fatani,
King Abdul-Aziz University,
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


This study offers the first market research analysis of the translation industry in Saudi Arabia. It presents the results of a project funded in 2006, which aimed at surveying the state of the translation industry in Saudi Arabia and outlining the practices and requirements of professional life so that both students and translators alike are kept abreast of the rapid developments in the translation profession. Prior to this study, the Saudi market's usage of translation, regardless of method (human or machine translation) had not been measured. The interest of gaining information and feedback from leading Saudi companies is, therefore, an important resource for completing the picture on where translation stands in the market. The results of this survey should provide interested researchers with the empirical data needed not only to address the gap between the training of translators and the requirements of professional life but also to isolate factors hindering the use and integration of Translation Technologies (TT) in Saudi Arabia


Translation technologies, translation market, translator training, computer-aided translation, translation practices, translation companies, translation working environment, outsourcing.

1. Introduction: Saudi industries & translation technologies

he recent entry of Saudi Arabia into the World Trade Organization, the establishment of economic centers in many parts of the kingdom, together with the diversified and large number of sectors that have recently entered into strategic partnership with Microsoft, has made translating and interpreting services a rapidly growing area in Saudi Arabia with excellent employment opportunities for trained interpreters. International, national, and local organizations, corporations, banks, government agencies, industrial enterprises, hospitals, the courts, the military, and the many other institutions that constitute global societies are beginning to rely on the services of translators and interpreters to communicate with each other and with their clients and constituents. Increase in information and speed of delivery has also brought information overload (glut or clutter) and obliged the use of Translation Technology (TT) in some leading Saudi organizations.

No attempt has been made to ensure the availability of examinations and certification systems for translators in all specialties.
However, despite the highly computerized nature of the market, it is hard to estimate accurately the number of interpreters and translators working in Saudi Arabia since there is no official commercial register documenting the field. Although the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce issues a list of licensed translation offices in the Kingdom, this list is largely inaccurate and therefore hardly reliable as a reference source. Many prominent translation offices such as Universal Summit Translation Center (USTC), for example, are not listed even though they have an online presence; and many contact numbers are either omitted or erroneous. This randomness makes it particularly difficult not only to evaluate the impact of machine translation (MT) and computer-aided translation (CAT) on the activity of professional translators but also to improve accuracy of information about the advantages and disadvantages of these technologies.

2. Materials and methods

In order to provide a more specialized and comprehensive overview of the translation industry in Saudi Arabia, the following tasks were undertaken:

  1. Companies using TT were identified
  2. Institutions that rely on own translation departments were identified
  3. The number of translation agencies was determined
  4. Common translation practices in major companies were described
  5. Telephone interviews aimed at probing to what extent personnel support the changeover to Machine Translation (MT) and whether it was imposed on them were conducted.

The information contained in this survey could be divided into 3 basic groups. The first group was obtained from 25 informants employed in 25 Saudi companies and institutions from a variety of registers ranging from licensed translation offices, to banks, hospitals, and investment agencies, to newspapers, oil companies, advertising agencies and law firms (see appendix II—Group 1). These companies were selected for extended interviews since they were deemed most representative of the market's usage of translation and indeed these respondents provided us with the most vital information. It is a given that fieldwork research raises ethical issues and questions of confidentiality. Therefore, it is important to note from the outset that ethical concerns were given the highest priority throughout the research process. Since many of the data presented in this study could be considered as confidential, all the required authorizations to publish were obtained in order to guarantee confidentiality. A written permission to publish was also obtained from the funding organization for purposes of copyright. The telephone interviews and exchanges with employees and heads of translation divisions in the above 25 Saudi companies were aimed at describing the basic translation procedures and protocols implemented by various government and private sectors of the Saudi corporate community, as well as probing translator attitudes towards the use of Machine Translation, degree of job satisfaction and general assessment of Saudi translators. Due to financial restraints, all interviews and questionnaires were administered by telephone since this method was deemed faster and less costly than in person interviews. It also eliminated problems of gender-segregation specific to the highly conservative Saudi community, and the consequent inability of many of our female administrators to access male company officials. All interviews and telephone questionnaires were conducted on a daily basis throughout the summer month of August when the workload of company employees was deemed to be less heavy and hence more advantageous for research purposes. A typical interview lasted between 20 to 30 minutes. None of the interviews were recorded due to social considerations; Saudis in general are averse to the idea of their conversations being recorded and the researcher was mindful of this cultural trait. All responses were summarized, transcribed and translated to guarantee survey accuracy. The rate of response for this initial survey was 100%

The second group of information was obtained from 40 respondents from 40 different companies who responded to a Market Survey Questionnaire (see Appendix I) specifically developed for the purpose of identifying Translation Technology providers, the number of organizations with translation divisions or departments, and the number of companies or institutions that use Translation Technologies. A total of 100 companies were initially targeted for this questionnaire. Of these, 40 surveys were successfully completed, i.e. the rate of response was 40%. The selection of these companies was based on the ranking list of Top 100 Saudi Companies (2005) issued by Saudi daily Arab News (see appendix II—Group 2). In terms of time, the rate of response for these questionnaires was 3 responses per minute. A typical 14-question telephone survey thus lasted approximately 5 minutes.

The third group of information was obtained from employees/ respondents in the following sectors: 1) the top 5 Saudi banking institutions, 2) the top 5 hospitals, 3) 7 Saudi academic institutions offering translation training, whether Diplomas, Baccalaureates or MA degrees, 4) all licensed translation offices in Saudi Arabia. It is perhaps important to note that the number of licensed translation offices in the Saudi Arabia totaled 583 in 2006; of these 100 were successfully contacted and completed the survey. The names of these offices were obtained from the official register of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jeddah and they were contacted in an attempt to obtain statistics as to the total number of offices using translation technology. Translation offices that only had an online presence were also included in the survey; there are only six such offices and surprisingly none is included in the list provided by the Chamber of Commerce.

As is evident from the above groups of information, the overall number of the sample was 725; the rate of response was 25.5%. However, it is significant to note that this rate increases to 57.7 once we exclude the list of licensed translation offices who represented a major hurdle for our research since the majority of them had erroneous contact numbers listed, did not respond to telephone calls, informed us that there were no professional translators available to answer questions, or generally refused to cooperate. Equally significant to note is that the low response rate of 25.5% should not be viewed as an important indicator of the survey quality. Although many observers have presumed that higher response rates assure more accurate survey results (Aday 1996; Babbie 1990; Backstrom and Hursh 1963; Rea and Parker 1997), recent studies are challenging the presumption that a lower response rate means lower survey accuracy. One early example reported by Visser, Krosnick, Marquette and Curtin (1996) showed that surveys with lower response rates (near 20%) yielded more accurate measurements than did surveys with higher response rates (near 60% or 70%). In another example, Holbrook et al. (2005) examining the results of 81 national surveys with response rates varying from 5 percent to 54 percent, found that surveys with much lower response rates were only minimally less accurate. As a result of these and other such recent findings, it now seems clear that low response rates "do not necessarily differentiate reliably between accurate and inaccurate data."

3. General characteristics of the translation industry in Saudi Arabia

The results of our analysis point to an increasing trend towards globalization, outsourcing, bilingualism and computerization. It is clear that the Saudi scene can no longer be separated from the global translation industry. With the entry of Saudi Arabia into the WTO, it has become no longer financially feasible for Saudi businessmen and companies to ignore certain facts about the global corporate world. In terms of the translation industry, the following global facts offered by leading researchers in the field (FXM Traduction 2004; Gabr 2000; Hutchins 2004; Lommel 2004; Pym 1998) will undoubtedly play a major role in the Saudi market in the coming years:

  1. Demand for translation outstrips supply

  2. There are few human translators, and a huge amount of material to be translated

  3. Companies have recognized the limitations of human productivity without automation.

  4. Translators' salaries are comparable to those of highly trained professionals.

  5. Delays in translation are costly.

  6. Translation Technology systems have become affordable and easily accessible to a range of users and systems

  7. Researchers predict a broader adoption of MT over the next 3-5 years, independently of any gains in translation quality.

  8. Translation Technology has gained momentum because of the continued trend toward globalization

  9. The Internet is providing the means for more rapid delivery of quality translations to individuals and to small companies; a number of MT vendors now offer translation services usually adding value by human post-editing.

  10. Internationalization or Localization is prevalent. Major companies are seeking to design and implement a product which is as culturally and technically "neutral" as possible, and which can therefore easily be localized for a specific culture or cultures.

  11. Software publishers can now release 30 or more different localized versions within a month or two of the original version, a process known as "sim-ship" (short for "simultaneous shipment").

  12. There are also a number of new roles that have been introduced into the professional translator's working environment, such as terminologists, computational linguists, lead linguists, specialist translators, specialist reviewers, project managers, localization coordinator (LC), technical writer (TW).

4. Changeover to TT in Saudi institutions

In order to assess the importance of translation technology for the Saudi market, it seems best to first identify the Saudi institutions that have made the changeover to translation technology and to survey the benefits recorded by company management which include: increase in consistency, shortening of time-to-market and reduction costs by as much as 40%. The most prominent of these institutions are the following:

  1. The Saudi Electricity Company (sceco)
  2. Aramco
  3. Al-shoura Council (Saudi equivalent of parliament)
  4. Islamic Development Bank

The common benefits recorded included the following:

  1. Increase in consistency
  2. Shortening of time to market
  3. Reduction of costs
  4. Facilitation of communication problems in multi-lingual environment

The above companies will be discussed in detail in our analysis of survey result. All four organizations, it should be noted, are large multinational companies that need to facilitate communications problems between employees speaking different languages. Their success stories will undoubtedly lead to the introduction of TT in other Saudi businesses and to the greater use of the technology in the local marketplace. In essence, it is these Saudi success stories that justify the aims of this project to analyze the new working environment and to address the major obstacles hindering the greater commercial use of Translation Technologies. By looking at these new applications of Translation Technology clear trends can be established. Based on lessons learned in these environments, we can outline specific criteria to use when evaluating the integration of translation technologies into university curriculum. However, it is important to caution that incorporating an MT system impacts upon both the translation process and the personnel involved. There are consequences for system administrators and support staff but above all for the translators themselves whose tasks will change significantly. Whereas before they had probably spent the major part of their time actually translating or human translations, they will now find themselves spending a lot of time updating the system's terminology, and proofreading the results of machine translation. Translators will definitely need to receive training in order to perform these tasks adequately. As researchers have noted, it is important that the personnel support the changeover to TT. They might not always be aware of the fact that TT can lead to more job satisfaction among translators since TT systems can perform the tedious, repetitive translation tasks and allow human translators to tackle the more challenging translation jobs. Researchers offer the following words of warning: if translators in an organization have decided for some reason or other that they do not want to work with TT, imposing it on them is guaranteed to produce poor results. (Hutchins 2001).

5. Common practices

Results obtained from our survey of the top 40 companies in Saudi Arabia revealed the following:

  1. None of the companies listed had translation divisions or departments. Most relied heavily on outsourcing translation projects to licensed translation offices in the Kingdom. In-house translations were available but on a limited scale and were done by bilingual secretaries or bilingual employees of the various departments. None of the companies were contemplating teaming up with a global translation supplier such as Trados since they were satisfied with outsourcing their work. The usual procedure is for the various departments of a large institution to send files to customer centers, which then selected their translators locally and waited for their files to come back, not knowing when that would be. In many cases, no review process is in place and hence the quality of the translation is never assessed. Since the translation process is never streamlined nor centralized, companies seem to have little quality control over the process and are largely unable to significantly reduce the time and costs required for translating. Most companies selected translation vendors on a local, ad-hoc basis, resulting in a translation process which takes on average 16 weeks, produces high administration costs and provides little consistency for translations. In essence, our survey revealed a fragmented process for the creation of technical documentation. This meant lengthy translation timelines, high authoring costs and an inconsistent quality of translations coming back from translation providers.

    Telephone surveys of newspapers, radio stations and hospitals revealed the following: 1) most translation work is performed by fluent speakers of English but not necessary translators; 2) some of the staff are better able to translate than the translators themselves 3) documents produced by some translators are revised extensively because of the poor quality of the language 4) in all hospitals, translation departments have been shut down and the task of translating documents relegated to medical secretaries or physicians' assistants. In addition to the above, the following practices in the 'translation review' setup were identified:
  2. Most companies and institutions, whether private or government, were well aware of the deficiencies of Saudi translators who were graduates of local translation and language programs. To compensate, many relied heavily on a system of mentoring. One form common in many of the Saudi companies was the simple translator/reviser set-up. Typically, the translator submitted his work, the reviser collected it, red-penciled it and put it back into the cubbyhole, and the translator retrieved the work to correct all errors. In newspapers, and radio and TV stations, where many of the translators have inadequate language skills, the reviser had to go over each and every text individually, and in many cases ended up doing all the corrections himself/herself. Surprisingly enough, many translators were not reluctant to sign their work nor were scared to take responsibility for their translation work, even though they were aware of the poor quality of their output. They justified this by the fact that they were not native speakers of the language, and hence should not be called upon to produce quality translations. An obvious improvement on the above situation was for the reviser to come to the translator's desk and go over the text in detail. This was clearly beneficial and became an invaluable on-the-job training experience. This form is prevalent in Aramco where there is a effective four-tier system of translators made up of translators, translation specialists, translator analysts, and translation checkers. Another possibility was where reviser and translator worked as a team. This form was also prevalent in Aramco because of the team-oriented environment and the highly functional four-tier system. In some disheartening cases, final reviewers of translated projects were less competent than the translators themselves. Instead of searching for errors and correcting them, they either made silly changes such as revising a word with its synonym or turned a perfectly acceptable sentence into a grossly ungrammatical one. One could not be sure in such cases whether these reviewers were unconsciously incompetent or simply intent on distorting the high-quality output of professional translators out of a sort of inner dismay at their own deficiencies in the language. One example can be taken from the University Catalogue (2006) where the following erroneous revision occurs:  

The Administrators of the University hope to harmonize and integrate learning research, creativity, continuous education, community service, and technology in all areas of specialization through the development of unique programs and services. Besides through collaboration with other reputed universities in the world.

The original sentence read as follows:

The Administrators of the University hope to harmonize and integrate learning research, creativity, continuous education, community service, and technology in all areas of specialization through the development of unique programs and services and through collaboration with other reputed universities in the world.

It is obvious here that the reviewer believed this sentence to be too long, perhaps operating under the mistaken rule that English sentences must be short in construction. He thus opted to divide the coordinated through-phrases and to start a new sentence using the connective "besides." Although this was probably perceived to be only a minor revision, it not only distorted the meaning but also made the sentence ungrammatical for the following reasons. Firstly, the connective "besides" is inaccurately employed since it cannot precede a preposition. Secondly, the construction now became a fragmented prepositional phrase "through collaboration with other universities" instead of a complete grammatical sentence.

6. Broad sectors of the translation industry

It is possible to divide the translation industry into the following broad sections. Each will be comprehensively discussed below:

  1. Translation Agencies
  2. Companies adopting Translation Technology
  3. Companies with large translation departments that have not as yet adopted TT.
  4. Large organizations that rely on few bilingual employees and/or outsourcing translation tasks.

6.1. Translation agencies

Although there are numerous translation agencies in Jeddah and Riyadh only 6 have an internet or online presence. These are: Summit International Universal Summit Translation Center Ltd, Al-muarib Center for Attested Translation, hto-translation.com, Motargim.com., Prima Translation Office. These claim to be medium-sized companies that use DTP tools and hire only professional translators. The following areas of expertise are listed: Health Care, Military, Politics, Articles, Marketing, Computer Training Manuals, Legal—Insurance Company mission and profile Policy & Procedures—Bylaws, Brochures—Technical User's manuals, Business Contracts—Agreements, Calls for Tenders—Business Correspondence, Human resources—Advertising, Personal certificates and documents, Educational & Training Materials.

 Results of our survey revealed the following:

  1. The quality of output produced by many translation agencies is less than adequate. A company such as Prima Translation Office which has a staff of 30 and claims to employ only professional and "brilliant" translators of the highest standards has the following poorly written sentence in its official website: He was graduated from thee faculty of commerce in King Saud University. A company such as Safra which provided interpreters for the 2006 Economic Forum, had Indian translators providing the Arabic translation. Since their Arabic was not quite adequate and they spoke Arabic with a very heavy Indian accent, this obscured meaning and disturbed listeners.
  2. Full-time jobs in translation agencies, or government and commercial organizations (in-house service) are available and in demand.
  3. There are two main providers of translation technologies in Saudi Arabia, namely Sakhr and Trados ( Rawafid Corporate Training). Of the two, Trados is the more prestigious company, offering high quality maintenance and training in MT. Both The Islamic Development Bank and Aramco have installed the SDL Trados system, not through the local agent but directly from the mother company in Europe. According to Aramco staff, Trados was only approached after Sakhr had failed to impress them with their translation system.

6.2. Companies adopting translating technology

a. The Saudi Electricity Company (Sceco)

The list of clients for Sakhr Software, one of the leading providers of translation technologies in Saudi Arabia, includes the Saudi Electricity Company (Sceco). Sakhr showcases Sceco as a success story and describes their changeover to computer-aided translation as follows: SCECO has more than 23,000 employees of mixed nationalities; some speak Arabic while others speak only English. Most of the documents used within SCECO were in English. But new policies required all documents, from short reports and forms to large documents, to be bilingual. A big translation department was already established, but due to the increasing amount of documents to be translated, the department was not capable of completing tasks at the required timing. The translation solution designed by Sakhr enabled employees to automatically translate text, electronic documents and web pages from English to Arabic and vice versa, producing output with acceptable quality that could be rendered to near-perfect quality with little post-editing effort. In order to improve the quality of Machine Translation, the system enabled administrators to build and maintain multiple glossaries covering domains related to the corporate such as electricity, mechanics, and energy; and to build multiple Translation Memories storing those sentences and phrases, along with their translations, that were recurrent in corporate documents.

b. Aramco

Aramco began the changeover to the Trados system early in 2005. The initiative came from senior translators in the translation department who felt they needed to automate the whole process. They began by building their Term Banks and feeding all bilingual documents into the system. Today, their glossaries and Translation Memory are operating at satisfactory level. Changeover was relatively smooth, although slight discomfort is reported by informants. Quite discouraging is the fact that over the course of two years, the number of personnel in the translation department dropped from 40 to 20. This suggests that the changeover to MT did indeed increase the speed, consistency and overall quality of translation. Despite the laying off of employees, Aramco translators report a high job satisfaction since the Trados system succeeded in eliminating all the tedious and repetitive aspects of translation. When probed, informants exhibited no aversion to MT, nor did they believe that computers had taken over their jobs. Like in the situation of Sceco described above, the presence of a large multinational staff made it imperative for the company to search for a translation solution that would facilitate communication among company employees, cut down on costs and speed up the translation process.

In addition to a central division of translation, translators are also located in all departments. The majority of translators are Saudi's since the company adheres to a strict Saudization policy, but there are a number of translation analysts from Egypt and Sudan. Although many are specialized in language and translation, others are chemists, lawyers and engineers who have been trained by Aramco. Since the general trend within the company is to train Saudi youth, starting in the 1980's a number of high school graduates were sent to Britain, Lebanon and Egypt to complete their studies in the field of translation. In the words of a senior Aramco checker, it took fifteen years of labor to get to where we are today. Aramco ensures quality control by following a strict hierarcial system of review. Translators are classified according to their performance into 8 basic categories: Translators 1, 2, and 3; Translation Specialists 1, 2 and 3; Translation Analyst 1, Checker 1.

As part of the global trend, Aramco today is studying the possibility of outsourcing its translation projects to local Saudi providers. It must be noted that this is not due to any overload or clutter but simply as part of the global trend towards greater specialization. Only highly sensitive and classified information would then be deemed fit to be translated in-house. Although this strategy is still in the discussion phase, it points to how globalization is affecting the corporate market in Saudi Arabia. Once outsourcing is implemented, company management envisages ex-Aramco employees opening up their own translation offices to meet market demands.

c. Al-Shoura council

The Shoura Council is another MT success story. Their translation department is made up of only Saudi translators, mostly young graduates of King Saud University. Job requirements include fluency in English, a high GPA of 3.5 (on a scale of 4), passing a written translation test, an interpretation test, and a personal interview. High school graduates are also recruited provided they are fluent in English. There are a total of 10 translators, with two being assigned to the president of the council, and 3 tri-linguals in charge of parliamentarian affairs. The translation technology used is the Golden Wafi Translator supplied by London-based ATA Translation Software specializing in Arabic business software, which includes machine translation, specialized dictionaries, and text-to-speech translation. However, the soft ware only translates from English into Arabic. It is not a knowledge-based system and there appears to be no Translation Memory software or Multi-term extraction system involved. Shoura translators believe the system to be fairly adequate but that it needs to be updated to more advanced software that includes more advanced features and produces better quality output. Also available is an online subscription to the web translation site al-misbar which offers employees access to instant machine translation of WebPages.

There appears to be no fear of machine translation among translators and when probed none believed that computers had threatened their job in any way. This is perhaps due to the fact that most Shoura translators are young and hence more aware of the importance of going digital. They are also fully aware of the difference between Machine Translation and Computer-Aided Translation and hence realize that more advanced translation software will undoubtedly aid human translators in their work rather than make them expendable. The fact that they felt the need to update the Al-Wafi translation software indicates their positive attitude towards automated translation in general.

Although translators appeared to be satisfied with their working conditions, job satisfaction was judged to be below average due to a general belief that corporate society does not recognize the importance of translators who are in many instances treated as "typists" rather than more skilled professionals.

d. The Islamic Development Bank

The Islamic Development Bank is a subsidiary of the Organization of Islamic Conferences. The translation software used is the Trados workbench. All translators are graduates of American or British universities and are specialized in the field of linguistics or translation studies. Graduates of Saudi universities are not employed since they are felt to be lacking in English Language skills. Employees appear to be satisfied with the changeover to MT and job satisfaction is high. Translators are of the belief that corporate subject matter is well suited to translation technology because of the technical terminology and the highly repetitive nature of the documents needed to be translated.  

6.3. Organization with large translation departments that have not changed over to TT

  1. The Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC)
    OIC has a large translation department of 12 translators from Tunis, Egypt and Sudan. Although it is a sister company of The Islamic Development Bank, no translation technology is employed since it is believed that the CAT system only works well with technical texts or texts of a largely repetitive nature. Saudis are also not employed since their English fluency skills are judged to be low. In addition to in-house translations, a lot of translation tasks are outsourced to experienced free-lance translators stationed in Saudi Arabia or else to translators selected from the databases of internal translations associations. In general there is a negative attitude towards automated translation or computer-aided translation since it is firmly believed that going digital would jeopardize the jobs of older and more experienced translators.
  2. Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA)
    SAMA has a translation department made up of 10 translators who are basically responsible only for translating the annual report. All translators are Saudi graduates of Language and Literature departments in local universities such as Al-Saud University and King Abdul-Aziz University. A system of reviewing is in place and this is performed by a senior Arab translator or head of division who has to be fluent in the English language.
  3. The Saudi Press Agency
    The Saudi Press Agency has a fairly large translation department with around 10 Saudi Translators who are graduates of language and literature departments in Saudi Universities. No translation technology is employed except for online dictionaries and glossaries. It is apparent that Machine Translation is frowned upon, and the head of the translation division who is himself a translator feels that the output of MT is too poor, and that translation is an art that needs mush more skills than bilingual fluency. The general impression is that MT is impractical and adequate only for technical or legal texts, and not for texts that deal with politics, communication, and culture. Although there is a head of translation department, no review system is in place since management believes that there should be trust in the abilities of all translation staff.  
  4. Law Firms
    Many of law firms have translation departments and employ professional translators with years of experience in the field. They rely heavily on Arab translators from Tunis, Lebanon, and Egypt and charge from 150 to 200 SR per page depending on the type of text needed for translation. Law firms are especially important to the banking sector since some of them are officially licensed to endorse all translated legal documents from banks and other financial institutions. One of the more well-known of law firms is that of Hassan Mahasany. Surprisingly enough, no translation technology is used and there appears to be a negative attitude towards automating the process of translation since it is feared that it might jeopardize the jobs of human translators. The scale of translation work is very large and hence the firm is forced to outsource a lot of its projects to free-lance translators who are mostly selected from the databases of international translation associations such as the American Translators Association (ATA). A rigid review system is also in place to ensure the quality of all translated output.
  5. Government Ministries
    All Saudi ministries surveyed had translation departments. All translators were Saudi graduates of Language departments whether in Saudi Arabia or Britain and the United States. No translation technology is employed and most translations are done in-house. Ministry Web pages are sometimes outsourced to freelance translators or International localization agencies.   

6.4. Large agencies relying on fluent bilingual employees and/or outsourcing

  1. Saudi Arabian General Investment Agency (SAGIA)
    Many large institutions such as SAGIA rely heavily on fluent bilingual staff, Saudis and Non-Saudis, in various specializations for all their translation needs. Employees in all departments are carefully selected based primarily upon their language skills and are usually graduates of American universities in various fields of specialization such as Finance, Insurance, Engineering, and Law. Management thus sees no reason for including a translation division since almost all documents are simultaneously generated in both English and Arabic by company staff. Two translators are available in the personal or HR department, but according to senior executives, they perform "silly" jobs such as letter-writing or mundane company notices whenever the need arises. Obviously, SAGIA management places more importance on specialization and fluency in English rather than on professional translating skills. This has led to a general attitude that a translation degree per se is useless in today's highly specialized market. As a result, all job positions allocated for translators in the company are immediately reassigned to other more needed professions.
  2. The Banking Sector
    Of the five banks included in this survey: National Commercial Bank, Samba Group, Riyad bank, The Saudi British Bank and Al-Rajhi, none have a translation department. Employees in all departments are required to be bilingual and most documents are generated in both English and Arabic simultaneously. Due to the growing need for translation services, the National Commercial Bank has introduced a performance based variable payment system. Employees are given bonus incentives for translating specialized works, such as legal documents for example, and their translation skills are rated and included in their overall job performance. Large documents which are more time-consuming and require more specialized skills are outsourced to experienced free-lance translators or else to well-known law firms which offer translation services.
  3. Hospitals
    The five hospitals included in this survey are: Erfan Hospital, National Guard Hospital, International Medical Center, Saudi German Hospital, and Dr Baksh Hospital. None of the hospitals surveyed have a translation department, although some translators, specialized in medical terminology, are available within HR or Office Services. Most specialized reports are generated in both English and Arabic by the physicians themselves, and hence there appears to be no need for the services of a professional translator. It is interesting to note that surveyed hospitals used to have large translation departments. However, because of the high costs of maintaining a large translation department, and because of the relatively poor quality of output, these departments were shut down and all staff either terminated or transferred to other divisions or to Head Offices in Dubai or Europe as in the case of the Saudi German Hospital. Bilingual medical secretaries and assistants to physicians were then asked to do all the in-house translations jobs previously performed by translators. A small number of clerks or interpreters are also available in each hospital to help in doctor-patient communication; they report mostly to the Nursing Division or to heads of the various medical departments. It should be noted that these interpreters are largely medical doctors holding BA or MA degrees. They are not specialized in translation or interpretation or graduates of English departments, but simply fluent bilinguals. In-house training in medical terminology is also provided to improve their level of interpreting. In addition to foreign physicians, hospital lawyers, who are usually fluent only in Arabic and French, also have personal translators assigned to them. 

Conclusion and major implications

The wealth of information collected from our survey of the translation market is calculated to provide valuable pointers to the needs of various user groups, whether translators or researchers, thus enabling academic institutions to structure the translation curriculum more effectively. One of the major implications of our findings is that translation is not being singled out or recognized as a knowledge-based industry such as the information technology and communication services. SAGIA, for example, has identified three potential investment areas, the energy sector, information technology and transportation. More recently, a number of sectors have also entered into strategic partnerships with Microsoft, where 14 business agreement covering broad areas of investment. Unfortunately, Translation Technology was not included in the initiative, despite the huge potential and the large marketplace in translation.

Undoubtedly, this indifference to the translation industry is related to the shortage of key talent in the field. One cannot deny that many of the licensed translation agencies in the kingdom are rather crude. No translation software is used, and in many cases translators are still searching for terms in a dictionary instead of having online access to a term bank. In many private and public sectors, translation projects are being performed by bi-lingual's rather than trained professional translators. One main reason for this is not only the poor quality of Saudi translators but also the fact that specialization now plays a major role in the translation industry. Since translators are not always trained in the various fields of translation such as legal, banking, commercial, technical and industrial, most companies prefer to deal with fluent bi-lingual rather than translators.

It is also clear from our market survey that only a handful of companies are investing in translation technologies that would allow them to automate and streamline the translation process, to maintain or improve translation quality, and to improve workflow efficiency. This is probably due to the fact that the Saudi business landscape is characterized by a large number of small and micro-companies, linked to each other in industrial chains. It has, therefore, been hard to address their specific needs in the field of translation automation. Most clients of machine translation are large companies.

In the final analysis, if we were to compare the global environment with the Saudi market, we will find major discrepancies in three basic areas: 1) globalization (a trend which has not as yet gained momentum in Saudi Arabia and this in turn has led to a lack of interest and even aversion to translation technology), 2) recognition of the limitation of human productivity without automation (only a few companies have recognized the necessity of going digital in translation), 3) translator's salaries are well below the salary scales of highly trained professionals. In contrast to the global market, translation technology in SA has not as yet started to become established on a commercial scale, nor has some familiarity with translation technology become a standard part of the training of a professional translator. As for the various roles of translators, these have not as yet become widely recognized since only a handful of companies have changed over to TT. Students of translation departments in almost all Saudi academic institutions have not been given a chance to use TT software, or to experience a number of translation-related roles, such as those of terminologist and project manager. The following characteristics can also be deduced from the data gathered:

  1. The language deficiencies of many Saudi translators have forced companies to rely on fluent bilinguals in all specialties so as to ensure the quality of output.
  2. There is a large cadre of Saudi free-lance translators usually working from home.
  3. Outsourcing is prevalent on a large scale since most companies are unable to handle the large amount of content needed for translation.
  4. Localization (i.e. arabization of software) projects are done by computer programmers not translators. Many translators are thus not aware of this competitive field of specialization.
  5. Unlike Information Technology (IT), Translation Technology (TT) has not become a strategic tool for many Saudi companies: i.e. it has not as yet become obligatory.

To conclude our study, one must reiterate the fact that there is an amateurish approach to translation in Saudi Arabia. It is deemed acceptable to make all sorts of serious errors on both the lexical and syntactical level. It must also be noted that although government regulations seem to regulate the profession, no attempt has been made to ensure the availability of examinations and certification systems for translators in all specialties.



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Market Survey Questionnaire


Company Name:


  1. Is there a translation department in your company?

    YES  NO
  2. If yes, how many translators are employed?

    If not, do you outsource translation jobs?

    YES   NO
  3. If yes, to which translation agency do you outsource?

    Foreign Agency    Local Agency    Freelance translator

  4. How many translators are employed in the department or company?
  5. What are their nationalities?

    Saudi       Arab    Western     Asian

  6. What are their qualifications?

    BA  MA  PhD

    Translation    Linguistics   Language     Other
  7. Do you use Translation Technologies?

    YES    NO

  8. If yes, who is your TT provider?   
  9. If not, are you discussing the possibility of using TT?

    YES    NO

  10. What are your translation needs?
    1. Manuals
    2. Annual Reports
    3. Brochures
    4. Business Correspondences
    5. E-mail
    6. Company Literature

  11. Do you have a system for reviewing in-house translation or outsourced works?

    YES   NO

  12. Do you employ bilingual employees?

    YES   NO

  13. Do you depend on fluent bilinguals for in-house translation works?

    YES   NO

  14. How much are you willing to pay for outsourced translation jobs (specify per page).



Group 1. List of Companies & Institutions Representative of Market Usage of Translation

Arab News


Al-shoura Council

International Medical Center

Hassan Al-Mahasny Law Firm

Islamic Development Bank

King Abdul Aziz City of Science & Information

Kingdom Holding Company

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

National Commercial Bank

Olayan Financing Company

Organization of Islamic Conferences

Samba Financial Group

Saudi Arabian General Investment Agency (SAGIA)

Saudi Arabian Mining Co (MAADIN)

Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA)

Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC)

Saudi Electricity Company

Saudi German Hospital

Saudi Gazette

Saudi Press Agency

Savola Group

Translation Era Office

Translation Service Center

Universal Summit Translation Center

Group 2. Arab News top 40 Saudi Companies (2004)

Kingdom Holding Company

Saudi Basic Industries Corp

Saudi Telecom Company

Saudi Electricity Company

Saudi Aramco Mobil Refinery

Consolidated Contractors Int

Holding Saad Group of Companies

Olayan Financing Company

Savola Group

Al-Faisaliah Group

Al-Marai Co

Sulaiman Al Abdul0Aziz Al-Rajhi

Riyadh Cables Group

Bin Mahfouz Group

Zamil Industrial Investment

National Cooperative Insurance

Arab Supply and TradingCorp

The National Shipping Co

Power and Water Utility Company

Al Seif Group of Companies

Al-Othaimin Commercial GroupIssam Kabbani Group

National Gas and Industrialization

Sara Group of Companies

Haji Hussein Alireza & Co

Saudi Arabian Fertilizer

Al-Hamrani Group of Companies

Jeddah Cable Company

The Saudi Investment Bank

Arabic Computer Systems

Yanbu Cement Co

Saudi Chemical Company

Al Tiwaijiri Group of Companies

Jarir Marketing Co

Mohammad Assad Aldrees & Sons

Al Taher Group

Saudi Cable Company

Saudi Public Transport

Saudi Pharma. Indust. & Med Appliances

Al Alamiah Electronics

Abdul Ghani El Ajou & Sons