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Translation, Arabization and Advertising Copywriting

Translation and Arabization are sometimes used as synonyms when one refers to content from any language being interpreted into the Arabic language. Yet the two are quite different from one other.

In Arabic translation, we transfer an idea from one culture into another one via language; this is more than merely translating words from one language to another. Language is a medium for this transference. Throughout this process, the translator has the choice to be faithful to the source alone or to also factor in the mindset and culture of the target audience. It is a choice between translating literally from the original author’s point of view alone or interpreting and writing an intended message from the target reader’s point of view.

Translation and the Arabic Language

Translation has played a crucial role in the Arabic culture and heritage. As far back as 1300s, Caliphs would give a book’s weight in gold to people who translated a foreign book into Arabic. The Caliphs strongly believed in communication between nations and cultures.

What is Arabization?

Arabization is the process that localizes foreign text or a term and reshapes it to match the Arabic mentality. The original elements of the Arabic language are used rather than literal translations, like hundreds of English terms that work as Arabic words and thousands of Arabic words that work within the English language.

Sometimes, one can find a complete expression or a sentence that works for the same meaning in the target language like the English term ‘checkmate’ in the game of chess, which traces its root to the Arabic ‘shah mat’, and so many more.

Those of us who translate and copy write in the translation industry have a great responsibility, as well as enormous opportunities, as the world becomes better connected and brands cut across global frontiers. We are charged with the task of interpreting and Arabizing content for the Arabic target audience, and expanding the global database of appropriate Arabic terminology.

Key to success in Arabic translation

Through our Arabic translation services, our main responsibility is to enable our clients to promote their products in such a way that they can be sold without affecting others negatively. We have to respect our clients and their brands, enabling them to promote their products effectively by giving them culturally sound advice. At the same time, we must also respect our clients consumers in Arabic locales. We must provide true and accurate information about the products our clients are trying to sell to Arabic consumers.

We certainly work hard to achieve client satisfaction, but I think we should aim to win the target consumer’s satisfaction too, with accurate product information in terms that consumers can understand. Otherwise, we risk losing the consumer, and subsequently, the client for whom we create Arabic content.

Another responsibility is to use the Arabic language properly; Arabic is highly meaning-sensitive language. If someone tries to add his own touch without a comprehensive knowledge of the nuances of this language, he may create a completely wrong result. Weak Arabic copy will negatively affect target customer perception of brand quality.

Arabic Language Today

Today, the opportunities are great for Arabs who have a passion for communication, media and translation, especially for those of us whom adapt content for Arabs. We work for our own local market, targeting consumers using our own language and culture. On many levels, that is an easy thing for us to do.

While the Arabic language is not easy for non-native speakers to master, it comes naturally to those of us for whom it is the mother language. It is much harder for non-Arabs to master the Arabic content market. It makes more sense for Arab writers to make dedicated efforts to move beyond being just literal translators to copywriters. We must continually enhance our skills towards creative copywriting.

Arabic Language and the global market

Also, we have certain challenges that require hard work. For example, the Arabic market has moved from a small and local focus to large and global emphasis. The demands of this market are also changing.

Many Middle Eastern companies, especially advertising agencies, are managed by non-Arabs. Sometimes, this results in management that might not be in tune with the way Arabs perceive their communication efforts and creative campaigns. An example would be an ad agency creating a Ramadan greeting for a shoe brand wherein the Ramadan crescent is shown as a shining arc on a shoe. This is an instance of a completely inappropriate message for the target audience that has been created and passed by a management that does not understand Arabic culture. Arabic culture has the most pronounced, negative attitude toward shoes being used out of context; to most Arabs, a shoe is a symbol of impurity. The shoe is such an offensive symbol that it is seen as culturally rude in Arab-speaking countries to even cross an ankle over your knee and display the sole of your shoe while talking to another person.

Arabic language and copywriting

Currently, there is an evident gap between Arabic creative copywriters and their clients, even their own managers. There are agencies in the Middle East that specifically seek non-Arab applicants for creative writing positions. Most often, the Arabic writer’s role is perceived as one for translating content that has been written by writers in other languages. In such a system, the result will be much weaker than in a situation where Arabic writers generate content based on their original thoughts rather than a translation.

Sometimes Arabic copywriters do not even get a chance to propose original concepts or content. Agency briefings often include English writers but not their Arabic counterparts, assuming that the concepts will be created in English and then translated or Arabized. When Arabic writers propose an original idea or a theme derived from their own culture and community, it is sometimes not understood or appreciated by decision makers who are unfamiliar with the local Arabic mores and metaphors.

I think Arabic writers and translators should work day and night to show our culture’s richness and stand up for our ideas. All communicators should join hands together, regardless of the language, culture, color and mentality, and be real partners in a world without frontiers.