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Arabic Translation and Localization Challenges

This blog covers factors influencing the growth of on-line Arabic content and the most common challenges to Arabic Translation and Localization. Although Arabic is the 4th most widely spoken language in the world, and Internet usage has grown faster in Arabic-speaking regions than almost anywhere else since 2000, Arabic on-line content is still disproportionately small compared to other languages. There are many factors that may soon increase the amount of on-line Arabic language website content, including recent initiatives by Google and Microsoft, as well as shrinking broadband access costs in many Arabic-speaking countries.

While 220 million Arabic-speaking people span over 20 countries, recent studies have indicated that less than 1% of worldwide Internet content is in the Arabic language, in contrast to 5% of the world population that speaks Arabic.

Arabic Language a high priority with Google and Microsoft.

Both Google and Microsoft have placed Arabic in their top ten languages that need prioritized attention. Four years ago, Microsoft released a Windows extension, Maren, which converts Arabic written in Roman characters into Arabic script. It is Microsoft’s second most popular service by page views after Internet Explorer 8 (Reuters, April 24, 2010). In April of this year, Google’s regional marketing manager, Wael Ghonim, said “One of our biggest missions is to enable Arabic users to find the right tools to enrich Arabic content. It would be great to see more e-commerce in the region, more publishers, more news sites. We are committed to help them.” (Reuters).

Arabic Translation initiatives achieving great strides in producing more Arabic Literature.

In Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates a major cultural and commercial translation and publishing initiative was started in 2007 called Kalima. This initiative was launched by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage, which funds the translation, publication and distribution of high quality foreign writing into Arabic. Every year Kalima will select 100 candidate titles of classic, contemporary and modern writing from around the world to be translated into Arabic. Kalima will also support marketing and distribution initiatives by opening up new distribution channels and promote the Arabic book industry on the international stage by investing in translation as a profession.

Increasing on-line access in the Arabic-speaking world

The first domain names written in the right-to-left Arabic script were registered in Egypt and Saudi Arabia late last year. The global Internet regulator, ICANN, voted to allow non-Latin script to be used in web addresses in November of last year.

Internet access is becoming more affordable in Egypt where the use of Internet on mobile devices is booming. Egypt is planning a $1 billion upgrade to its broadband capabilities over the next 4 years; this will quadruple Internet penetration to 20% of the population.

Increased global awareness of the importance of on-line Arabic language content

Until recently, most international companies in the Arabic region and elsewhere had their websites, marketing materials and tech manuals in the English language, not the Arabic language. International firms now realize that they must provide Arabic content and localize their on-line content and e-Commerce websites into the Arabic language in order to be successful in this vast and rich marketplace:

  1. The majority of Arabic-speaking people are not fluent in the English language.
  2. Arabic culture is significantly different from western or Asian culture; professional localization services and copy writing are needed to address the needs of consumers from this historically rich culture.
  3. The proliferation of handheld Internet capable devices has made companies realize that they must communicate with consumers in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) in their native, Arabic language.

Arabic Translation and Localization Challenges

  • Very little modern scientific or technical writing originated in Arabic, which creates a shortage of equivalent terminology. While it is not easy to express some computing or technical terms in the Arabic language, a qualified linguist can create custom Arabic terms that accurately express the exact meanings of the source language terms.
  • Many technical terms are translated into the Arabic language through transliteration, or “coining a phrase”. This practice makes it challenging to find standards for technical terms commonly used in English.
  • Arabic is a very rich language in term of dialects, accents, registers and styles. Variations in Arabic dialects were influenced by historic and geographic factors. For this reason, it is critical to identify the regional locale of your target audience.
  • Arabic is a highly expressive language, with many alternate ways to express a message. Machine translation and “cheap” linguistic resources do not work well with this language.
  • The Arabic Language is Right-to-Left (RTL), which will affect page layout and website user interface. For instance the order of table columns must reverse, marginal graphics will “flip”, changing places with the accompanying text.
  • Arabic DTP (Desktop Publishing) is more labor intensive, as manuals, brochures and flyers required reversed page order. In some cases, photos and images may have elements that direct the readers attention towards the outer edge of the page instead of towards the spine of the book. Alternate photos and images may be required, along with the services of highly professional Arabic Desktop Publishing specialists and graphic designers.
  • Although the Arabic Language is RTL, it is also bi-directional (BiDi), which means that numbers and words in Latin based characters will display Left-to-Right (LTR).
  • There is still a shortage of professional Arabic linguists who have access to the required linguistic computing environment and Translation Memory (TM) tools. This is a compelling reason to work with a translation/localization partner who frequently works with Arabic language projects.
  • Websites or software that perform e-Commerce transactions have additional user interface requirements in Arabic: contextual analysis, rendering and shaping, alternative numeric display, Hijri dates, character extenders for justified text, neutral characters, etc. This is one more reason that it is critical that your Arabic project translation/localization partner must have extensive experience working with Arabic localization.