Localizing for the Middle East Market: A Special Look into Arabic Localization

A Special Look into Arabic Localization

Saudisoft presented a webinar on The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) titled “The Middle East Market: A Special Look into Arabic Localization.”nThis webinar is beneficial for companies that are looking to localize their projects into the Arabic language for the Middle Eastern market.nWe cover the effective main topics and the summary of the webinar in this article.nIn this article, we share some insights into the Arabic language, giving you a quick introduction into Arabic diacritics and how they can play a big role in your localization projects. We also discuss Arabic dialects and how they are usually grouped and suggest specific dialects for different domains. n

Five basic facts about the Arabic language:

After conducting a survey of the audience participating in the webinar, the most well-known information about Arabic is it being a right-to-left language, which was correct.
Other facts about the Arabic language are that it is an official language in more than 20 countries with more than 400 million speakers worldwide. It is also a language with no capital letters.
Some members of the audience knew some interesting things about the Arabic language, which was great.
Let's talk about these facts in detail.

Five basic facts about the Arabic language:

After conducting a survey of the audience participating in the webinar, the most well-known information about Arabic is it being a right-to-left language, which was correct.
Other facts about the Arabic language are that it is an official language in more than 20 countries with more than 400 million speakers worldwide. It is also a language with no capital letters.
Some members of the audience knew some interesting things about the Arabic language, which was great.
Let's talk about these facts in detail.

- Arabic is a right to left “RTL” language.

Unlike English, Arabic is not a left-to-right language. Arabic is a right-to-left language where the writing starts from the right of the page and continues to the left. Arabic is also a bi-directional language, with both writing scripts having different directions (left to right and right to left).

- The official language in more than 20 countries

Arabic is currently the official language in more than 20 countries, which is considered to be the sixth most spoken language in the world.

- Arabic has more than 400 million speakers

Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages and the most common RTL language, with an estimated 422 million speakers worldwide.

- When translating into Arabic, expect approximately 30% text expansion.

Those who work on Arabic localization projects may notice that Arabic text can expand in comparison to English text and, because of this, you can expect approximately 30% text expansion in the Arabic script compared to English.

- Arabic does not have upper/lower case letters

Another important detail is that you don't need to use the CAPS key on your keyboard when typing in Arabic, as there are no capital letters in Arabic.
Also, in Arabic there are no abbreviations.
Arabic has a large number of words and expressions. Let's take the word “friend” for example; there are different words in Arabic that can be used to describe the word “friend” depending on the depth of the relationship with the friend.
For example, a friend you consider a spiritual soulmate can be called a خليل, but we use different words when describing a best friend, like a chosen person over another.
There are lots of different words that can be used as well, with Arabic having a rich vocabulary and different expressions that can be used to describe one word.

Numbers in the Arabic language

When it comes to numbers in the Arabic language, these can be written with Arabic numbers, Latin characters or with Arabic Hindi numbers, the use of which vary among countries and regions, and even among some areas in the same country or region.
Most e-commerce websites use Latin characters, with one of the important facts to remember is that numbers in Arabic localization are not mirrored.

Arabic Diacritics

One of the important features of Arabic that affects localization, to be taken into consideration when localizing into the Arabic language, is Arabic diacritics.

What are Arabic diacritics?

A quick introduction into Arabic Diacritics, also known as text democratization, are small characters written below or above the letter to indicate how to pronounce it. It can change the meaning and the sound of the letter, like the example shown in the table in the Arabic column.

Why understanding Arabic diacritics is important to the localization community.

Each sign shown in the table above has a different effect on the word and can make a huge impact on the meaning of the word even though it’s the same letter in the three rows, with each one having different pronunciation because of the different diacritics written either above or below.

The effect of Arabic diacritics in translation

Arabic diacritics can affect localization projects, such as dubbing or voiceover projects, or because of ambiguity in written translation projects, which could, in turn, affect the efficiency of speech recognition in text-to-speech programs as well.
To understand the effect of diacritics in the Arabic language, here are two examples of words that have the same letters but with different diacritics.
The two words have the same Arabic characters, but the diacritic signs in the Arabic words are localized in different positions. Because of this, the two words have different meanings. The one to the right, with two signs above it means a ‘flag’, whereas the word with two signs above and one below means ‘to know’. Both have different pronunciations, which is why it's very critical and important to take care of the Arabic diacritics, especially when it comes to performing Arabic voiceovers, which is why it's necessary when recording them to have a person who monitors the language pronunciation that can distinguish words from each other in your script.
The meaning and pronunciation of a word is greatly influenced by diacritics, but it's not necessary to use them for all Arabic words. We only use them when a word can be read in several ways.
To summarize, Arabic diacritics play a critical role when it comes to Arabic localization projects, which are used in written translation projects to clear ambiguity.

Arabic dialects

The Arabic language has a wide variety of dialects, which is sometimes a bit confusing, especially for non-native speakers.

To answer the question of which Arabic dialects to be use in projects, the recommended dialects to be presented are based on our recommendations, experience and knowledge of our culture, with there being no dialect that absolutely must be used as this is based on many factors.
For better understanding of Arabic dialects and to simplify them, we can divide Arabic language dialects into MSA dialects and local dialects.
Local Arabic dialects can differ quite significantly from one country to another.
There is quite a variation among Arabic dialects, and how Arabs understand each other depending on the geographic location of their dialects and their subsequent exposure.
For example, Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian dialects are quite similar compared to other dialects because they are geographically neighboring countries located in North Africa with some common colonial history.
The same geographic factors apply for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, which also applies for Gulf countries as well. And there is also the Egyptian dialect that doesn’t really belong in a specific group.

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)

Modern Standard Arabic stands for MSA. It's referred to as eloquent speech (light fusha). It's understood by all Arab countries as well as people who only speak the local Arabic dialect. MSA is the dialect used in Arab schools and it's also the recommended dialect for non-native speakers as it helps them to understand many other forms of Arabic.

What to consider when selecting the Arabic dialect?

The recurring question we get from our clients is the preferred Arabic dialect that they should use in their Arabic projects. To better assist you determine the best dialect to use, we need to identify the following factors:

 What type of message do you want to deliver and to whom?
 The project domain and subject.
 What are you localizing?

When it comes to localizing content into the Middle Eastern market, we need to identify the content domain, the purpose of the content and the message you want to deliver and to whom.
For example, if the translation is to be used in a formal context, we recommend MSA. But if it's for marketing purposes, we suggest going with the dialect of the spoken country, which will make it easier to deliver your marketing message to the correct target segment.

Project domain and subject

When it comes to newspaper and broadcasting news, we recommend MSA because the Arabic written in a newspaper in Lebanon is the same as the Arabic written in a newspaper in Egypt, KSA or in any other Arabic country.
The same applies when it comes to broadcasting news, with MSA being the dialect used for any official education material as well. It is also the official dialect used in medical documents, reports, medicine, leaflets, as well as being used for legal documents and formal speeches, being most often used for written formal communication.
Just as importantly, it’s not generally used in day-to-day verbal communication.
Even so, we are all able to understand it, whether written or spoken, but it’s not used for variable communication and we don't recommend using it for TV and social media advertisements unless you wish to promote your product or service in a formal way.
A real example of social media ads is for Pepsi on Instagram. The written content in the design on the right-hand side was published on the Pepsi Egyptian page on Instagram, whereas the text written in the photo is written in the Egyptian dialect. Note that the content written in the photo published on the Pepsi Saudi Arabia page is in a gulf-based Saudi Arabia dialect, whereas the video is in an Egyptian dialect on the Egyptian page is in a gulf-based dialect on the Pepsi Saudi Arabia page.
We have also come across companies that wish to localize their TV and social media advertisements into MSA, but we recommend the country's own dialect as this makes it easier to get the attention of the desired targeted market segment, as mentioned before.
If you are localizing a website and targeting different Arab countries, the best solution is to use the MSA dialect as this would be acceptable for different Arab countries. Here are the H&M websites for United Arab Emirates and for Egypt, both written in MSA.
Even if you cannot understand what's written, you can see that the words are almost the same.
When it comes to movies, most of them are localized in Syrian or MSA dialects, while animations are localized into MSA and Egyptian dialects. Some animation production companies used to use the Egyptian dialect, but changed after a while to MSA.
To summarize, we recommend modern standard Arabic dialects for newspaper and broadcasting purposes, localizing official speeches and educational material, medical and legal documents, books, websites and other official documents. Based on our observations, we recommend MSA for video games as well.
We will suggest the appropriate country dialect if your project is for social media marketing advertisements, TV ads, or for movies and series for dubbing services.
As you can see, the domain and the subject of the project, along with the segment you are targeting, can have a great effect on choosing the right Arabic dialect.

Whenever you are confused, you can easily contact your localization company to advise you about which dialect you should select.
Contact us to find out more about our Localization services!