Translating for Arabic Markets: 4 Important Things to Know

Image: localizing for arabic markets

With hundreds of millions of Arabic-speaking web users (representing 5.2% of the global internet population), it isn’t a surprise that you want to localize your website for the Arabic market.

Arabic localization is the process of adapting websites or products for Arab-speaking countries across the Middle East and North Africa. The localization process includes language translation, but you shouldn’t stop there. The savviest global brands also customize their websites for the specific Arab cultures they want to reach.

In this guide, we’ll share best practices for translating and localizing a website for an Arabic audience.

About the Arabic Language

A key component of any Arabic localization project is language translation. Arabic is the fourth most popular spoken language in the world. However, localizing for Arabic markets is not a simple task.

Before you begin your project, here are some things you should know about the Arabic language:

  • The Arabic language and its unique dialects have approximately 422 million speakers worldwide. It makes a lot of sense to translate your websites for this widely spoken language.
  • Although there are millions of Arabic speakers in the world, there are major differences in the language spoken in different regions. There are about 30 Arabic dialects.
  • Most speakers are spread out throughout the Arab world across the continents of Asia and Africa. In Asia, most speakers of Arabic reside in the Middle East in the countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Syria, Palestine, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and more. In North Africa, speakers of Arabic are predominantly found in the countries of Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia.
  • The Arabic language reads from right to left.
  • The Arabic alphabet consists of eighteen characters that express phonetic sounds:

Translating for Arabic Markets: 4 Important Things to Know 1


4 Tips for Arabic Localization

As you can probably imagine, Arabic localization requires extensive research and preparation. To ensure that your product gets released with the highest localization quality in the Arabic language, here are four things to keep in mind:

1. Avoid machine translations as much as possible

Translating the English language into Arabic is tough. Arabic is an expressive language with poetic words, indirect characterizations, and idioms to describe ideas and situations. Many concepts, phrases, and terms don’t have an exact match in English.

Machine translation is a common technique used by businesses because it saves a lot of time and effort in localization. However, you should avoid using machine translation with Arabic. Since machine translation engines are unable adequately understand translation context, your Arabic translations will come off as poor. Machine translations are also notorious for missing translation errors. Instead, hire a qualified native speaker to translate your text into Arabic so your content sounds authentic and accurate.

Example: Could this be an auto-translate fail? Global furniture brand IKEA made a big gaffe in Bahrain with an Arabic translation. Instead of translating the English text, the Arabic text read: “Same text but in Arabic”. Whoops.


2. Be cautious with imagery and visuals

Images and visual elements are a great way to connect with your target audience, but you don’t want to make the wrong impression in Arab markets. Some Arabic cultures can be quite sensitive to topics like gender, politics, religion, and sexuality. Be cautious when depicting flags, emoji, or people in your website’s visuals. Given the diversity of the Arabic community, some images may be acceptable in certain regions, while a highly conservative audience may take offense.

Always ensure that your images are culturally appropriate for your target audience. For example, women are expected to cover their hair in some Muslim cultures. A website featuring a woman with short, uncovered hair or a ponytail may be seen as offensive. Just to be safe, you should always consult native speakers to test your localized website.

Image: A screenshot of Microsoft's efforts in localizing for Arabic markets
Example: Here’s a screenshot from Microsoft’s Egyptian Arabic localized site. If you look closely, you can see a woman with a culturally-appropriate head covering.


3. Pay attention to website layout, functionality, and format

Due to the nature of the presentation of images and text in Arabic, getting website design right is challenging. Even though Arabic is written and read from right to left (RTL), it tends to be bi-directional when there are untranslatable phrases or words. In this scenario, the untranslatable words have to be written from left to right.

However, not every software has the capability to change the direction of the text when it encounters such phrases or words. Even the elements of your product or site must get reversed, along with the RTL text, for proper localization. You also have to reverse the columns of any table, to avoid confusion among the locals. Make sure that your localization services and tools can accommodate all the nuances of RTL web design.

Image: a screenshot of Duolingo's efforts at localizing for Arabic markets
Example: Here’s the localized Arabic version of, the popular language learning site. Unlike English, you can see how the text and images flow from right to left.


4. Understand your target audience

There are many dialects of Arabic. Choosing the right variant is key to marketing to your target audience. Due to this reason, your localization depends on the region where you plan to launch your brand. Given the variation in vocabulary, if you use Algerian Saharan Arabic when your product is available in Saudi Arabia, they may not understand the text at all.

Image: Localizing for Arabic markets is challenging since there are so many dialects.
Arabic dialects are spread across the globe. It’s so varied that people in one region may have trouble understanding Arabic speakers from different regions. Source:


Localizing for Arabic Markets: Conclusion

Translating and localizing for the Arabic market can be more challenging than translating into Western languages. That’s why we recommend using a translation management system (TMS) to localize your website for an Arab audience.

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

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

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