A Few Things You Need to Know Before Localizing in Arabic

Why Should I Localize Arabic?

If you’re asking yourself this question, then there’s a thing or two you need to know about the Arabic language and the Arab-speaking world. The key to survival for any business is to hold on to the consumers it already has while simultaneously attracting new ones. Despite the wild generalizations, the Middle East, where most Arabic-speaking countries are located, is not entirely overrun with chaos and instability, but instead represents a burgeoning market of active consumers looking to make money, spend money, and connect with the rest of the world. These kinds of populations present an unparalleled opportunity for a business to be successful.

For example, Internet World Stats has measured the number of both Arabic-speaking Internet users and those accessing the Internet from the Middle East, and some might find them surprising. While the Middle East population of 250 million or so represent only 3.3 percent of the 7.3 billion people on earth, they account for 3.8 percent of all Internet users. This 0.5 percent might seem tiny, but think to the tune of almost 150 million active Internet users in the region, and you’ll realize why it’s a big deal.

The 292 million Arabic-speakers, however, represent an even bigger overall percentage, with 185 million active users accounting for 4.8 percent of the world’s online population. But what do these numbers matter? Businesses need to look to the future to make investment decisions, right? Well yeah, which is exactly why the Arabic-speaking population is key. Between 2000-2017, the number of Arabic-speaking Internet users increased faster than any other major language, a whopping 7,247.3 percent. And to give you the full picture, of the 10 most widely spoken languages, Arabic has one of the largest percentages of speakers who still don’t have access to the Internet, or about 56.2 percent. This percentage represents an additional 236 million potential users.

One of the biggest hurdles for Arabic-speakers to overcome was the script, oftentimes difficult or impossible to input and format correctly. But in the past decade, there have been numerous advancements that allow Arabic language fonts, coding, and software to become prevalent. For example, Microsoft released its program, Maren, in its Windows operating system that automatically converts Latin characters into the Arabic script. These are just some of the reasons why you and your business should consider localizing your website or Internet content to Arabic.

Well, this all seems great. But what’s the catch?



What Makes Arabic so Hard to Localize?


Arabic is an official language in 28 countries and has 292 million native and non-native speakers. But on a more linguistic level, there are 8 broad categories of Arabic, which together contain at least 19 dialects, which in turn contain at least 48 sub-dialects. Linguists sometimes identify variations of the language based on specific country, which comes out to 22 different dialects. And this doesn’t include classical and modern standardized variations used in historic texts and formal contexts. That’s a lot of Arabic.


The amount of scientific and technology-related research and publishing in Arabic has been minimal in recent decades, which means that many common and easily understood technical terms in English don’t have practical or uniform translations in Arabic. It can be difficult to express a lot of terminology related to computers, the Internet, or other communications technologies.


Translating languages that read from left to right to a language that reads from right to left brings about some complications, particularly with design and format. A good localization service makes every effort for a webpage or mobile application to retain its original formatting and structure, so when the direction of a script flips, making sure all content fits in the same way can be a challenge. In addition to simple lines of text, Arabic-speakers also read pages from right to left, meaning that you to organize any sequenced columns, sets of images, or separate blocks of text correctly so that Arabic-speakers can easily read follow the direction and flow of the content. Particularly in desktop publishing, sets of images showing step-by-step processes must display in reverse order in the Arabic translation.

What Are Some Tips to Localize Arabic Correctly?

Know Your Target Audience

With so many dialects and variations, knowing exactly who your target audience is and what dialect they speak will make your job a whole lot easier and your localized project all the more successful. Vocabulary differs dramatically between dialects and no one in Saudi Arabia will be able to understand your content in a Moroccan dialect of Arabic. Along with simple linguistic nuances, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of knowing what is appropriate or unacceptable in an Arabic-speaking culture. Some countries have laws around what can be shown in images, and many groups take offense to certain themes or ideas in marketing content that are perfectly acceptable in Western countries.

Stay Away from Machine Translation

Machine translation is almost never a suitable alternative to a human translation service, but we’re going to argue that this is twice as applicable for Arabic texts. Particularly in business, technology, and communications, common phrases or concepts don’t have proper translations, and a machine cannot decide what word is appropriate to use in every situation. Arabic is also a very expressive language, using a lot of idioms, allusive characterizations, and sometimes even poetic words to describe situations or ideas. Machines will not be able to tackle these kinds of humanistic language functions, and your web content will just look insincere, appear hastily assembled, and probably will not make a whole lot of sense.

Focus on the Layout

Pay. Attention. To. The. Layout. We cannot stress this enough. Double-checking sequences of images, loading text into suitable content blocks, and being mindful of direction will make or break your project. A localization specialist needs to be able to think like an Arabic-speaker and approach issues in design and format with the eye of a local. Even what appear to native English speakers to be subtle details might look like humongous errors to a native Arabic speaker.

I Have No Idea What to Do Now…

Don’t worry. Arabic is a complex language that many spend years or even decades trying to master. No one is expected to learn and utilize a language at a professional level without any help. This is where a professional localization service comes in handy, like ATA Translation Agency. We offer Arabic translation services in addition to website, software, mobile app, e-commerce, digital marketing, email communication, and a whole bunch of other localization services between all dialects of Arabic and more than 300 other languages. Save yourself the time, money, and stress and give ATA Translation Agency a call.

Additional Reading:

Internet World Stats – Middle East

Internet World Stats – Top Languages

Ethnologue – Arabic

About the Author:

Daniel is based out of Chicago and works as a writer, editor, and translator.

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