Arabic Translation Challenges and How to Solve Them

Arabic translation is demanding. It requires mastery and several years of experience. Also, the language has a complex structure and different dialects. So, Arabic translators have to specialize and have excellent skills in their area of specialization.

The other strategy for meeting the high translation quality requirements entails having outstanding skills in the target language. This strategy enables Arabic translators to transfer values and expertise smoothly. Failure to do so results in low-standard translated content.

Arabic translators should understand that the Arabic-translated content is not standard. The content depends on the target language and the cultural environment of the target language. So, the translated content can have different contexts, even though it comes from a single source.

The need to have Arabic-translated content matching closely with the source text calls for Arabic translators to specialize in the target language. This strategy enables them to accumulate vast experience that makes them expert translators.

Multiple Dialects

Arabic is a Semitic language with over 420 million global native speakers. Also, the Arabic language has several dialects similar to English and other languages.

Even though the standard Arabic language is the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), there are over 25 different dialects within the Arabic language. However, all dialects have three subdivisions, namely the colloquial, classical or Quranic, and Modern Standard Arabic.

Arabic translators should understand that the different Arabic dialects are also not standard. Some of these dialects borrow words from other languages, such as Turkish, Spanish, and Italian. Having an understanding of variances that exist within different Arabic dialects is one of the solutions to overcoming the challenge of the multiple dialects within the Arabic language.

Natural Complexity

The Arabic language has a complex nature. For this reason, inexperienced translators often find it challenging to translate the language. Also, English and other prominent languages have certain terminologies that make it hard for Arabic translators to find their Arabic match.

Capitalization is also a challenge that Arabic translators face. Most words from English and other languages start with capital letters. However, the Arabic language does not have capital letters. Such an aspect makes it hard for translators to comprehensively find the meaning and context of capitalized words.

Notably, Arabic contains alphabets that English and other languages do not feature. For this reason, Arabic translators combine a few letters from other languages to come up with the Arabic translation. However, the resultant translated content still lacks the sound and feel of the Arabic language.

The solution for overcoming the natural complexity of the Arabic language lies in having sufficient Arabic knowledge and a comprehensive understanding of the various Arabic cultural backgrounds. Such knowledge and experience enable Arabic translators to find the closest words that match the source text.  

Writing Format and Diglossia

The Arabic language is a right-to-left writing and reading language. Notably, most languages are left to write when it comes to reading and writing them. So, the writing format poses a challenge to several Arabic translators, especially those who are bilingual.

Written and verbal Arabic language has a high variance. With over 12 million words and non-existent sounds and letters, the Arabic language is quite unique. Some people find the Arabic language’s pronunciation, grammar structure, and alphabet style intimidating.

To overcome the writing format and diglossia challenges, most translators employ Modern Standard Arabic because of its universal acceptability.

The Poetic and Figurative Nature

The Arabic language is both poetic and figurative in nature. Arabs often use similes, metaphors, and proverbs when speaking and writing. For this reason, translating their content word for word can make the translated content lose its context.

The other aspect of the Arabic language entails the use of long sentences. This aspect is a result of the usage of several adjectives and synonyms. If you break the sentences, the translated content can lose meaning.

The Arabic language also has several words that have different meanings, even though they sound and read almost similarly.

To overcome this challenge, a translator must be culturally competent in terms of the Arabic language. Also, the translator must specialize in the Arabic language.

The uniqueness of the Arabic Alphabet Letters 

The Arabic language has 28 alphabet letters. On the other hand, the English language and several other languages have 26 alphabet letters. This variance makes it hard to match the Arabic words with English or any other language.

It is also notable that some Arabic learners find it difficult to pronounce some Arabic letters. The tones of these letters do not exist in any other language.

To overcome this challenge, translators use letters that resemble the sound of Arabic letters.

Regarding numerals, every translator should know that Arabic figures read the same as English numbers. Also, the numbers follow a similar structure, including tens and hundreds. So, ones remain ones, and tens remain tens, regardless of the language that one uses to write them.

The Need to Adopt a Different Way of Thinking

Notably, language gives shape to the way a person thinks. For this reason, a person translating Arabic into English has to adopt an English way of thinking. A similar approach applies when translating English into Arabic. However, it is not easy to keep on switching between two different thinking patterns.

The shifting of a thinking pattern comes with selecting some words above others. For example, some prepositions and verbs found in English and other languages can throw some Arabic sentences off their appropriate context after a literal translation.

To overcome this challenge, you have to keep on practicing and get in-depth knowledge of the meaning and context of the source and target language texts. In other words, employ specialization in your translation processes. Not only will you build a stock of appropriate words to use, but you will also find it easy to switch from Arabic to your target language.   

Similarity of Words

The Arabic language has several words that mean the same. Notably, Arabic stands as an emotional language. This language tends to intensify an idea. For this reason, around 2,000 English words can translate a 3,000-word Arabic content.

Transcreation is the solution to this challenge. This strategy seeks to give meaning to words rather than translating them. In return, a translator can apply cultural knowledge and creativity during an Arabic translation process.

Some Cultural Expressions’ Ambiguity 

Translating Arabic content is challenging because of the ambiguity surrounding some cultural expressions. The ambiguity is a result of the presence of multiple words that mean the same thing. 

If a translator fails to capture the appropriate meaning, the translated content can lack an appeal. In other words, the content can lack the convincing power necessary to trigger an action from the reader.

The solution to this challenge also lies in transcreation. A translator has to know the commonly-used words of the target language to evoke the emotions of the reader. Otherwise, the translated content can fail to accomplish its mission.


Every translator must know the appropriate translation strategies and techniques. These requirements apply to any translation process, including the Arabic translation process. Some of the strategies and techniques are as follows:

  1. Borrowing: This technique entails writing some words as they appear in the source text. Afterward, it would be best if you italicized the borrowed words. In return, you will find a way of relaying the meaning of words without sounding incompetent.
  2. Transposition: Every translation process should employ transposition. This technique seeks to move between different grammatical categories while leaving the meaning of the words intact.
  3. Equivalence: A translator should be able to use different expressions without altering the reality of the content.
  4. Adaptation: This technique equates with transcreation. It seeks to substitute original text with a culturally-acceptable translated text. In return, the translated content becomes more familiar to the target audience.
  5. Calque: This strategy seeks to adopt the structure of the source text. In return, a translator manages to create new words.

Transcreation is a Universal Solution to Most Arabic Translation Challenges

Transcreation entails the conversion of translated content into a culturally-acceptable content. This strategy eliminates most of the technical challenges that Arabic translators face. 

To implement this strategy effectively, a translator has to specialize in the target language. In return, such a translator manages to understand what is acceptable and what is not acceptable among the target audiences.

The Bottom Line

Arabic translation services are not easy. It has a complex structure and nature, especially when written. For this reason, Arabic translators must identify the common challenges that the Arabic translation features. Also, they should know the ways of overcoming those challenges. In return, every Arabic translation process becomes smooth.


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