Why Arabic is a difficult language in Localization

In the next brief, intense research, you will simply learn why Arabic is one of the most difficult languages to deal with in localization –-or what we call sometimes L10N, and I’m sure that you all will exclusively see why localization in Arabic is such a hard process.
Arabic is widely considered one of the most difficult languages to deal with in a localization context. Generally, commentators have focused on the technical difficulties of working with Arabic, but what you really need to know is that the technical aspects are just the beginning.

Arabic poses some of the greatest web localization challenges 1. Because of the poor software support and 2. Theacute shortage of Arabic translators”

- John Yunker, Beyond Borders – Web Globalization Strategies
The Arabic language lacks many of the developments and refinements needed for dealing with modern business and technology. In this sense it may be termed a technologically” under-developed language.
At the same time technology has yet to make as significant an impact on Arabic culture as it has in many other areas of the world. Arabic therefore, lacks many linguistic developments needed to deal on an even basis with more technologically developed languages. As a result, localizing from a language like English, with abundant vocabulary for technical subjects, into Arabic entails not only translation and cultural adaptation of content, but also overcoming the linguistic barriers between technologically developed and under-developed languages.
For example, there are many terms in modern business that simply do not have corresponding Arabic terms. A classic example in business terminology is that Arabic makes no distinction between “administration” and “management” – both are إدارة in Arabic. This can create unacceptable ambiguities in business translation.
Other examples of terms that have ambiguous meanings in translated Arabic are:
Calculate = حساب; calculator = آلة حاسبة
Compute = حساب; Computer = حاسوب
While it is not easy to express computing terms in Arabic, it is possible to create custom Arabic terms that can accurately express the exact meanings of the source language terms, and to make a glossary that explains the real meanings of the source terms.
However, on top of ambiguous terms, there are other terms that were incorrectly translated but which have gained currency in current Arabic literature. The problem with these terms is that don’t convey the intended meaning and you lose the message in Arabic when you use them, even though they are commonly used! And let me give you some examples:

The Prefix Tele-

The term telegram is translated in Arabic by the word تلغراف but the exact meaning of the term is مكتوب عن بُعد
Telephone = هاتف; the exact meaning of the term is محادثة عن بُعد
Television = تلفاز; the exact meaning of the term is مرئي عن بُعد

The Prefix Inter-

National = قومي
International = دولي; the exact meaning of the term is بين القوميات
Internet =الشبكة الدولية ; the exact meaning of the term is الشبكة البينية
The Arabic terms and style demonstrate how technically complex content can be efficiently localized into modern Arabic.

Other Problems

Another problem is that there is insufficient linguistic research in Arabic to create computer resources needed in a modern computing environment. There are no grammar checkers for Arabic, no OCR [Optical Character Recognition], and, most importantly, no powerful linguistically-aware search engines or string-processing utilities to handle Arabic.
In most cases, translation into Arabic is an adhoc process with no clear methodologies to follow. Many Arabic companies have their web sites, reports, brochures and manuals in English, but not in Arabic—because they cannot successfully express their intended messages in Arabic!
Ultimately, only a few of the issues that make Arabic more complex than other complex languages for localization were shown to you and companies seeking to localize into Arabic need to be aware of these issues and be prepared for the difficulties inherent in working with Arabic.


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