Localizing for Right-To-Left Languages: Everything You Want to Know

English is a language with a left-to-right (LTR) orientation. Besides English, there are many other languages like Spanish, Russian, and Hindi that are read and written from left to right. However, about a dozen languages have the opposite orientation, including Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu, Persian, and more.

Localizing for right-to-left (RTL) languages is something you need to understand if you want to appeal to target audiences in the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa.

In this post, we’ll discuss what you need to know when localizing for right-to-left languages.


All About Right to Left (RTL) Languages

All around the world, people use right-to-left-oriented languages.

Image: localizing for right to left languages is important since these languages are popular all over the world
RTL languages can be found in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, and a few other areas. (Image source: wikipedia.com)

Before you start localizing for right-to-left languages, you need to decide which audiences you want to target.

Here are some common RTL languages to consider:

  • Arabic:
    • Arabic is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. It’s the most common RTL language. The Arabic language has approximately 422 million speakers, so it makes sense to localize your website for this popular worldwide language.
    • Arabic speakers are spread out across the continents of Asia and North Africa. In Asia, most speakers of Arabic reside in the Middle East in the countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and more. In North Africa, speakers of Arabic are predominantly found in the countries of Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia.
  • Persian:
    • The Persian language, known as Farsi, is the official language of Iran and is also widely spoken in other nations, including Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
    • More than 110 million people speak Farsi, making it the second biggest right-to-left-oriented language in the world.
  • Urdu:
    • If your business is targeting the Pakistani market, consider Urdu, Pakistan’s most widely-spoken language.
    • There are also thousands of Urdu speakers residing in the northern reaches of India, which shares its borders with Pakistan.
    • With over 100 million speakers worldwide, Urdu is the third most widely written right-to-left oriented language.
  • Other Right-to-Left Languages

 


RTL Language List

In total, there are about a dozen RTL languages used all around the world:

Language Name Local Language Name ISO language code
Arabic العربية ar
Aramaic ܣܘܪܬ arc
Kurdish (Sorani) کوردی ckb
Divehi ދިވެހިބަސް dv
Persian فارسی fa
Hausa هَوُسَ ha
Hebrew עברית he
Khowar کھوار khw
Kashmiri कॉशुर ks
Pashto پښتو ps
Sindhi सिंधी ‎ sd
Urdu اردو ur
Uzbeki Afghanistan اوزبیکی uz_AF
Yiddish ייִדיש yi

 


Localizing for Right-To-Left Languages: Things to Consider

Localizing content for RTL-oriented languages can be tricky. Language translation is a top concern, but so is adapting your content to look good when the text flows in a different direction (right to left).

Here’s a great example from Airbnb, the popular vacation booking site:

localizing for left to right languages at Airbnb
Example: Notice how the Arabic version of Airbnb (left) is a mirror image of the American English site (right).

To localize for RTL languages, you also need to consider the following formatting issues:

  • Layout
    The first step of converting an English site to an RTL language like Arabic is mirroring your UX. This includes page and text formatting and site navigation.

 

  • Margins
    RTL text may be larger or smaller than English characters. Page margins should be fine-tuned according to the space occupied by the text.

 

  • Font options
    Be sure to choose a legible font. Some default fonts and formats are tough to read, fuzzy, or too small for RTL scripts.

 

  • Menus and  controls
    The placement of menus and various media needs to make sense to your target audience. Commonly, volume and media controls will be flipped to RTL.

 

  • Images
    Your images may need to be altered depending on how much space is occupied by the right-to-left language. Additionally, the graphic elements of your site should never use culturally inappropriate imagery.

 


Why Use Localize?

Translating and localizing for RTL languages can be more challenging than translating into Latin scripts. That’s why we recommend using a translation management system (TMS) to localize your website for a global audience.

A TMS like Localize integrates with top language service providers (LSPs) to deliver fast, accurate translations in Arabic, Hebrew, and many more languages. Localize offers a powerful set of automated tools and features that make it simple to launch, translate, and manage sites and apps. Localize also offers built-in SEO tools to ensure your content is accurately indexed in search engines.

From Microsoft to Cisco, Localize helps hundreds of top companies manage website localization. To learn how we can help you meet your localization goals, contact us today.

Share this post:

Related Reading