The struggles of Arabic to English translation

In the Middle East and Africa, people speak over 30 types of Arabic. Arabic is super old and is the official language in more than 25 countries, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Algeria. It’s also one of six languages used by the United Nations. Even though it’s not like French or Spanish, which come from Latin, Arabic has influenced many other languages in the area. You can see its impact in Turkish, Persian, Kazakh, Kurdish, Urdu, and Malay. When translating between English and Arabic, you must consider grammar differences, cultural preferences, and modern styles and tones. Let’s explore the struggles of Arabic to English translation; there’s much to learn!

Arabic to English translation

Translation from Arabic to English is like building a bridge between two different languages and cultures. It helps people communicate and understand each other despite being from various places. This process involves changing Arabic text into English while keeping its meaning, tone, and context as close as possible.

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Importance of Arabic to English translation

1- Global business communication

Arabic is spoken in many countries, including those with growing economies and abundant oil. However, for businesses worldwide, English is the language everyone uses. Translating contracts, emails, and other business documents from Arabic to English, or vice versa, helps countries trade and work together.

2- Diplomatic relations

Since Arabic is the official language in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, it is a must to draft diplomatic letters, treaties, and agreements in English. This helps countries build relationships and resolve problems.

3- Academic and research purposes

Arabic has a deep history in math, astronomy, and philosophy. Translating academic papers and historical texts from Arabic to English allows more people to learn from them and brings cultures together.

4- Legal documentation

In places where Arabic is the language of the courts, correctly translating legal documents like contracts and court papers is necessary to follow the law and avoid confusion.

5- Travel and tourism

Translating travel information, such as guides and signs, from Arabic to English makes it easier for tourists to get around in Arabic-speaking countries. This improves their trips and encourages more people to visit.

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The struggles of Arabic to English translation

Arabic dialect differences

People speak Arabic differently. Three main types are Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, and local dialects. Local dialects have eight main groups. Sometimes, even Arabic speakers might not understand all the dialects. So, when translating, you must tell the translator which region and type of material you need.

Arabic grammatical and format differences

Apart from the different Arabic dialects, there are significant differences in how English and Arabic use grammar and make sentences. An excellent Arabic translator needs to know these differences well to translate accurately and in the proper context. 

If a translation doesn’t consider these differences, it might not sound right. The translator needs to know how the text would sound when spoken to get the written words right.

Industry knowledge and experience

Different industries use specific words and phrases in many fields. A translator needs to understand the industry well to translate accurately. This is true not just for Arabic-to-English translations but for any language worldwide.

Gender reference

Arabic and English treat gender differently. English has words like “it” that don’t have a gender, but Arabic always assigns a gender, even to objects. 

For instance, if an English document uses “it”, the Arabic translation needs to assign it a male or female context. The translator will use “they” if the context is unclear. So, during English to Arabic translations, the translator must be careful to get the gender right.

Arabic letters with no English equivalent

The Arabic alphabet adds another layer of complexity. Unlike English, which has 26 letters, Arabic boasts 28.

This complexity poses a challenge when transcribing Arabic names into English. For instance, consider the name of an Arabic writer: Fatma Naaot. The “aa” represents the Arabic letter (ع), which sounds different from the English “aa” as it’s pronounced deeper in the mouth. While English alternatives exist, they often don’t perfectly match the original Arabic sounds. Translators must choose letters that come close to replicating the Arabic sounds.

Differences within Arabic culture

In over 25 countries where Arabic is spoken, you’ll notice differences in how people pronounce words. This can make it hard for one Arabic speaker to understand another, which is similar to English.

Necessity to shift the thinking way

When translators work, they have to switch their thinking to English. This can be hard because English and other languages work in different ways. For example, Arabic doesn’t have a “to be” verb, which is essential in English. Also, Arabic doesn’t use “do” as English does. Plus, Arabic doesn’t separate past and present tenses like English does. This means translators have to think about time and space differently.

Arabic boasts many methods to express the same meaning

We usually say things directly and briefly in English, especially in business. But Arabic is different. When translating Arabic to English, one English word might not be enough to replace an Arabic word.

So, many translators provide transcreation alongside translation. Transcreation preserves a phrase’s meaning rather than just translating it word for word. Translators can add their creativity and cultural understanding to create content that connects with a new audience.

Final thoughts

Arabic is an essential language globally. It’s super important for businesses and government agencies. They need it to talk to Arabic-speaking partners, clients, and colleagues. But Arabic is tricky for English speakers (and vice versa). There are differences in writing, gender stuff, and dialects. So, it’s crucial to pick a professional translator when translating documents between Arabic and English. They’ll ensure everything gets across right.


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