Arabic Translation and Arabic Localization 

Facts about Arabic

Arabic is a Central Semitic language and classified alongside other Semitic languages such as Hebrew. Arabic has more speakers than any other language in the Semitic language family. It is spoken by more than 280 million people as a first language, most of whom live in the Middle East and North Africa. It is the official language of 26 countries and is the fifth mostly widely spoken (by native speakers) language in the world; the four before it are Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and English, one of the top ten languages of Internet, according to George Weber.*

Distribution of Arabic as a Majority language in the Arab World

Arabic has many different, geographically distributed spoken varieties, some of which are mutually unintelligible. Modern Standard Arabic is derived from Classical Arabic, and is in current use as the official language for all Arabic countries for government and education. Modern Standard Arabic is used as the intra-country communication language for Arabic publications, newspapers, books, media, television and radio broadcasts across the Arabic world and is understood by educated Arabic speakers. All Arabic translations delivered by Loc.PRO are based on Modern Standard Arabic.

As with some other Semitic languages, the Arabic writing system is right-to-left.


Written Language

The Arabic alphabet consists of 28 consonants and can be written without vowels, since vowels are inherent to the consonant characters. The Arabic alphabet has also been adopted by non-Semitic languages such as Modern Persian, or Farsi, Urdu, Malay, and some West African languages. Arabic, like Hebrew, is written in right to left order. In actuality, it is a bi-directional language, since numbers can be written in left to right order and whenever Roman script is used. Another interesting fact is that the numerals used when writing Arabic are typically not written in “Arabic” numerals at all, rather Arabic uses Hindi numerals. However, Arabic numerals as used in most western languages are sometimes used in Arabic writing.

Arabic Language Statistics

  • Approximately 280 million people speak Arabic as their first language.
  • Arabic is the liturgical language of nearly 1 billion people worldwide.
  • Approximately 29 million Arabic speakers have access to and use the Internet,
    which represents over 2.5% of the global online population.
  • Literacy throughout the Middle East varies greatly country to country, ranging from 85% (Saudi Arabia) to 91% (Jordan).
  • Writing Systems: Arabic alphabet
  • Code Pages: Windows-1256, win-1251 CP-1256
  • Unicode Supported: Yes
  • Who speaks Arabic: Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen


Arabic Translation and Localization

Arabic-speaking customers will only search for, find, and read your content if you have completed a thorough Arabic localization of your content. Arabic localization includes the process of adapting the language, appearance, and functionality of a product and/or website for Arabic-speaking markets.

When preparing for an Arabic localization project, you should choose your translation agency carefully. The Arabic language presents a variety of unique challenges to Arabic-speaking localization professionals. Compared to other languages, there is a smaller pool of qualified, Arabic-speaking linguists to choose from in certain market sectors. The Arabic language also has fewer instances of standardized technical terminology.

The only way to ensure Arabic consumer receptivity to your localized Arabic software, Arabic website, or Arabic documentation is to work with a qualified translation company that has extensive experience in the Arabic region. Your Arabic language service provider should employ teams of native Arabic-speaking localization specialists who understand how to detect and resolve the many potential Arabic localization challenges.

Both Google and Microsoft have placed Arabic in their top ten languages that need prioritized attention. In 2006, 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. In April 2010, 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.”

Arabic Translation and Arabic Localization Challenges

Loc.PRO team has extensive experience with the in and outs of the Arabic Language and we have a long and flawless record of success with complicated Arabic translation projects. Here are some of the common issues with English to Arabic translation and desktop publishing that we have learned:

  • Arabic translation typically expands 30% in size from English.
  • 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.
  • 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. If you target all Arabic speakers, your translator should use “Modern Standard Arabic”.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Not all applications support Arabic text and great care must be taken when using Arabic in complex layouts. Some applications use different encodings, which complicates data transfer from one application/OS to another. For example, it is  not possible to send/receive Arabic emails or IMs using AOL software. Due to encoding/font difficulties and the bi-directional nature of Arabic, simple operations, such as copying, pasting or printing, can become a nightmare for a novice. Displaying Arabic text in applications that don’t support it is virtually impossible.
  • Specialized expertise and techniques are required. Typically, applications localized specifically for use with Arabic must be used.
  • There are certain hyphenation and line breaking rules that have to be followed.
  • Although in most cases the rules are straightforward, some words can pose serious difficulties if your desktop publishing/word processing department does not have the right expertise.