Arabic is the sixth most popular language globally, and about 274 million people worldwide speak it. It is also considered to be the fastest-growing language on the internet today.
Their native language is always preferable for customers: about 75% of people prefer purchasing products with information in their own language. And Arabs are no exception.
In view of the facts mentioned above, we here offer you a closer look at website localization services for the Arabic language and show you the importance of planning it in the early stages of your project development.
Basically, there are two main types of languages: left-to-right (LTR) and right-to-left (RTL) languages. Most Western languages, including English, are LTR languages. The majority of people read and write from left to right, and most of them have got used to seeing this layout on the internet.
However, there are languages that go from right to left, the mirror image of the traditional way of writing for European countries. Arabic is one of the RTL languages, along with Hebrew, Pashto, Persian, Urdu, Sindhi and others.
But why are localization teams so concerned about RTL languages, and even afraid of them? One reason is that European locteams don’t have a lot of expertise dealing with Arabic. They may also be surprised by the amount of work needing to be done, as a lot of UI elements have to be redone completely.
So it might seem that it is easier to keep your website as it is, and leave the burden of translating it to the Arab audience and Google Translate.
Today, thanks to globalization, a lot of RTL languages are not 100% right-to-left. Many of them are a mixture of left-to-right and right-to-left scripts. For example, numbers in RTL scripts may appear normal, just as we are used to seeing them: “200” instead of “002”.
So what do you need to pay attention to when localizing a website into an RTL language?
There is a standard character encoding for the Arabic language — ISO/IEC 8859-6. However, only 0.1% of all web pages use it.
Here are some typographical tips when localizing to RTL languages.
- Increase fonts by several points. Arabic fonts usually render text smaller, so it is a good idea to increase the size by a few points to make it easy to read.
- Avoid bold typefaces. This will help make the text easy to read.
- Italic fonts are not used in Arabic and other RTL languages.
- Overline instead of underlining. It might be strange, but overlining is usually used to highlight text in Arabic.
- Omit capital letters in Arabic. Arabic doesn’t have capital letters at all: instead, letters differ in forms to show whether they come at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word.
- Use the Noto font. It’s recommended by Google Guidelines, as this font is clean, legible, and considers the unique features of Arabic text.
- Arabic words are shorter. Always check alignment in RTL localization, as Arabic words are usually shorter than, say, English ones. Don’t forget to align texts to the right, as well.
- Leave LTR instances as they are. You don’t need to mirror every word in RTL languages. Some foreign words can be used just as they are written in the original language.
Some icons need to be mirrored in RTL versions of websites, but not all.
- Mirror icons with an explicit direction. The back button should be mirrored and point to the right for RTL-language websites.
- Mirror movement or text direction icons. For example, in the RTL version, you need to mirror a shopping cart on a cart page. Also, a chat icon should be reversed.
- Keep symmetrical icons as they are. There is obviously no need to mirror symmetrical icons.
- Do not mirror right-handed icons. The majority of people are right-handed in any country. So, if you have an icon with a cup of coffee or a magnifying glass to reflect a search button, you don’t need to flip it. Leave it as it is in LTR style, as most people will pick up a mug with their right hand.
- Do not mirror icons with English characters. They do, however, need to be localized. One of the best-known examples is the Google Translate icon.
- Avoid problematic icons. For instance, piggy banks will not be the best option to illustrate something on an Arabic website. Also, an icon referring to alcohol will not be acceptable on an Arabic website. Try to choose neutral icons or replace these with icons selected specifically for the Arabic locale.
Today, most Arabic countries use the Western Arabic numerals from 0 to 9, just as we are accustomed to. Western Arabic numerals are used in North Africa and Pakistan.
However, some countries, like Iran, Afghanistan, and the Mashriq area, use Eastern Arabic numerals.
A lot of Arab countries today use both systems in their everyday lives. Both numeric systems are used in Sudan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and even traditional Saudi Arabia. So you need to know just which part of the Arab world you’re localizing your website for.
- Do not flip English numbers. You do not need to mirror either the numbers themselves or their order. So, if you include any phone numbers with international dialing codes, leave them as they appear on the LTR website version.
You will need to localize calendars and dates for the Arabic version. Do not forget to pay attention to the peculiarities of the country you are localizing for.
- Avoid abbreviating days of the week. This is typical for English-speaking countries, but in the Arab world days of the week and months of the year are not abbreviated.
- Sunday is the first day of the working week. Friday and Saturday are the weekend in the Arab world. Do not forget to take this into account and start your calendar from Sunday.
- Hijri or Gregorian calendars. You need to know what type of calendar is used in your region. However, the general rule is that if the calendar uses “English” numbers, then it is displayed LTR. If it is in Arabic, you will need to mirror it and display it in RTL style.
- Do not mirror dates.
It is impossible to mention all the website elements you might need to localize. However, here are some of the most widely used.
- Mirror scroll bars. For instance, Internet Explorer and Opera automatically display scrollbars on the left for Arabic versions of the websites.
- Leave media controls LTR. If you have a media player on your website, you do not need to mirror it. The play, paus, and stop buttons will not flip.
- Do not mirror logos. Company logos do not need to be flipped. But you do need to change their location and align them to the left side of the website.
- Directional signs. All directionals like arrows, dropdown arrows, or check marks should be mirrored. An interesting thing about dropdown arrows: keep them pointing down, but place them on the left side of the menu.
There are a lot of peculiarities involved with RTL localization. It is recommended that you find an expert localization team to help you avoid mistakes and effectively develop great, native right-to-left websites.