Translating for the Arab World

There are over 300 million people in over 25 different countries across the Middle East and Africa; home to the Arabic language. It takes a great deal of familiarity and sensitivity to culture, history and linguistics to be able to truly reach an Arabic audience, specifically in marketing and business. This is especially true in reference to spoken Arabic.

The Multifaceted Arabic Language

There are numerous dialects within the region, and some within the same country. This challenge needs to be accommodated for by the translator.The biggest difference can be found between the Arabic of Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, etc.) and Middle Eastern Arabic. It’s good to note here, that Middle Eastern Arabic is closer to classical Arabic than Maghrebi. So what you’ll find is that Middle Eastern Arabic is understood by a Maghrebi, but not the other way around. Staying within Africa, begins a great divide between the Arabic spoken in Maghreb and Egypt. With the largest population as well as the influence of its pop and cultural reach, Egyptian Arabic is the most understood of all dialects. For a translator, this may be the way to go to reach the widest audience. Other dialects differ among regions such as those of the Levantine, the Gulf, Iraq and Yemen to name a few. Maneuvering across these dialects to choose the right one can prove to be a challenging feat with inexperience.

Arabic of Today

Enter Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), simplifying the Colloquial Arabic (commonly known as fusha) identified by dialect and modernizing the Classical written Arabic. MSA is now used in newspapers, books, magazines, official documents, and reading textbooks for youthacross the Arab league. This differs from the Classical Arabic that is taught across schools and used in the written words such as the Quran and understood by many. However, Classical Arabic is not used colloquially and its counterpart MSA is more readily used today. Localizing Arabic can be done using Modern Standard Arabic where appropriate. However, there needs to be consideration of target market and cultural biases when using MSA in order to avoid isolating the reader. There is also the increased use of English within the Arabic language that is becoming more prevalent. In tackling translation to Arabic it is common to undermine the importance of these considerations. However, when factoring in quality, finding the right Arabic to use becomes paramount.