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AL Arabic's New Translator Guide - Part 4 of 7

This part offers tips particular to Arabic translation and localization.

Language notes

Arabic has always represented a major challenge to anyone working in translation. Not only that Arabic has a unique set of syntax and semantics, but even more importantly, because of the difficulties met when translating modern terms, whether in technology, tourism, fine arts, cuisine, business, and many other domains.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have time honored institutes that can govern the arabization of modern terms. The orphaned attempt to unify Arabic medical terms, back in the eighties, through the Unified Medical Dictionary, is a clear example of how such projects have negatively impacted Arabic translation, instead of advancing it.


AL Arabic is determined to offer a solution to this issue, both through its platform solution that will soon host the largest unified Arabic glossary, and through AL Arabic talents who work hard to raise the standards of Arabic translation.

Apart from unifying terminology, Arabic content creation carries several other challenges, the most of which being the unique syntax and semantics. This is where your creativity plays a major role in rephrasing and transcreating sentences in “the most Arabic way”. Here are a few tips that may help you do this:

  1. A structure in the passive form may need to be translated in the active form.
    • For example: Written by John Smith = كتبه جون سميث
    • Another example: My friend was stung by a bee yesterday = لسعت صديقي نحلة بالأمس. In this example, it would be extremely awkward to maintain the passive. Try it!
    • Arabic has a completely different set of linking words than other languages. One linking word in English, for example, can be transcreated in two or three ways, such as: Moreover.
    • For example: THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES - REGIONAL REPRESENTATION FOR THE GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COUNTRIES (hereinafter referred to as "UNHCR") = المفوضية العليا للأمم المتحدة لشؤون اللاجئين – المكتب الإقليمي لدول مجلس التعاون الخليجي (يشار إليها في هذا المستند وملحقاته باسم "المفوضية")
    • Look for functionally equivalent terms before anything else. In other words, do not be concerned in translating the term, but in finding the term in the target language. For example: The term “signs” in the medical jargon should, as you sure all know, be translated to “علامات”, not “إشارات” or anything similar.
    • If the above fails, look for a formal/lexical equivalent. This means looking it up in a dictionary, a specialized dictionary of course. As you see, looking a term up in a dictionary is the second choice, not the first!
    • If the above also fails, or sometimes in line with any of the above two options, you may need to provide an explanation on the go. This is particularly necessary when you feel that the target language term id not descriptive enough, nor it is known enough, to convey the required meaning. Please note that you should only explain once throughout the text.
  2. Feel free to change linking words and their position.
  3. Give priority to the idea, not the structure. Ideas can be conveyed in different ways, and you should go with what you feel gives the text the best flow.
  4. In contracts and agreements (legal), and in the parties definition article, you may encounter a situation where the assigned name in a western language is an abbreviation. You should change this into a name easier to handle in Arabic, keeping in mind the legal framework.
  5. In selecting terms:
    • Example: When translating the term “محرم” into English in the phrase: “من قواعد الإسلام ألا يخلو رجل بامرأة أجنبية إلا بوجود محرم”, it is advisable to say something like: It is an Islamic rule to not have a man sit in private with a woman he is eligible to get married to unless in the presence of a “Mohram”, who is a first-degree relative to the woman who is not eligible to get married to her. (I trust that you can find a better translation than this one!). Please note that I explained the two terms “أجنبية” and “محرم”, so they are completely clear to the western reader.
    • Omission: It is sometimes ok, or even necessary, to omit redundant parts when translating from Arabic. (This is less advisable when translating into Arabic, as Arabic usually needs further explanation rather than shortening). This applies to certain cultural expressions such as “بعون الله” or “على بركة الله”, or sometime some explanatory note that would sound redundant in English or any other target language, either due to the sufficiency of the term itself, or because adding the explanation will confuse the reader. For example:
      • The part: “السنة الكبيسة التي يأتي فيها شهر فبراير بتسعة وعشرين يوما” in Arabic can easily be translated into “leap year”, without any further explanation. Here, the term is self-explanatory and sufficient on its own.
      • The part: “الثيّب، وهي غير العذراء ممن توفي عنها زوجها دون طلاق” should be translated into “widowed”. Adding any further explanation would confuse the western reader, who do not necessarily understand the cultural significance of virginity.
      • It is very important to only use omission when needed, and be extremely cautious not to use it when it affects the meaning.
  6. Punctuation: Arabic punctuation is completely different from punctuation in other languages. You should feel free to break down a sentence and reassemble it, using different stop points, and making sentences longer or shorter than in the source text when necessary. For more about punctuation, please review the document entitled “AL Arabic’s Typing Guidelines”.
  7. Things you frequently need to change:
    • Adverbs: He likes her greatly. (greatly will need to become something else, like بشدة or إعجاباً شديداً)
    • Changing an adjective into a noun: The committee recommended the early implementation of the initiative. (أوصت اللجنة بالإسراع في تنفيذ المبادرة).
    • Changing a verb into an adjective: The president decided that the referendum should take place on Feb 25th. (قرر الرئيس إقامة الاستفتاء في يوم 25 فبراير).
    • Changing an adjective into a verb: I would like to make a slight reference that the company should… (أرغب هنا أن أنوه إلى أن الشركة...)
    • Prepositions: This could be the thing you encounter the most, and I am sure you are already familiar with how to handle this. I will just leave you with a few examples:
      • Achievements of the past decades. (الإنجازات التي تحققت في العقود الماضية)
      • The lady in red. (السيدة التي تلبس الأحمر)
      • Obama of the US. (أوباما رئيس الولايات المتحدة)
    • In sum: You should always feel free to change the whole structure and rebuild the paragraph from scratch.
    • For example: The part “And because of how she was standing, they called her Ms. Liberty.” Can be literally translated into “وبسبب الطريقة التي كانت تقف فيها، أطلقوا عليها اسم السيدة حرية”, but you tell me what’s wrong here! The transcreator should be aware that the term Ms. Liberty has this special connotation only in western societies.
  8. Cultural variations: You need to be aware of cultural variations between speakers of the source and target languages. This is sometime as crucial as ruining the whole work.

There is, of course, much more to say about language. AL Arabic trusts your knowledge and judgment, and we are confident that you will handle any issue that you may encounter using your three pillars: Creativity, Technicality, and Knowledge.