For non-Arabic speakers, it is tempting to think that to translate any document or audio-visual support into Arabic is a straightforward proposition. Simply ask to localize into Arabic and there you go, any competent translator into Arabic will provide you with a perfect Arabic translation of your original.
This might be true if you are aiming for a translation into Modern Standard Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic can be written and spoken, with no discernable differences between the two, and is commonly used as the Arabic Lingua Franca across the Arab world. It is based on Classical Arabic, the language of the Quran, a version of Arabic that was the language used for all scholarly, administrative, cultural or religious purposes during the Caliphate Era.
Today, Modern Standard Arabic is used for books, newspapers, official documents, business correspondence, street and shop signs etc., albeit not for religious purposes, though it might be used in religious assemblies or for Friday sermons for example. There is no local version of Modern Standard Arabic, which means that localizing into Arabic should be really simple.
However, as with everything in the Middle East, what appears simple at first glance actually hides a myriad of details that will considerably complicate things once you get specific.
So, although you can actually speak Modern Standard Arabic across the Arab speaking world, and Arab speakers commonly do in international gathering to avoid ambiguities and misunderstandings that could otherwise stem from dialectical differences, Modern Standard Arabic, even when spoken, is not at all the same as Spoken Arabic.
And that is when localizing into Arabic becomes complicated. When localizing into Spoken Arabic, the dialect of the target audience has to be taken into account. Broadly speaking, there are 9 main dialect groups schematically divided as follows
- North African Arabic (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya),
- Hassaniya Arabic (Mauritania),
- Egyptian Arabic,
- Levantine Arabic (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine),
- Iraqi Arabic,
- Gulf Arabic (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the U.A.E. and Oman).
- Hejazi Arabic (Western Saudi Arabia)
- Najdi Arabic (Central Saudi Arabia).
- Yemeni Arabic (Yemen & southwestern Saudi Arabia).
Though speakers of Egyptian, Levantine, Iraqi and Gulf Arabic are likely to understand each other without major problems, they might struggle to follow a conversation in any version of North African dialects are their structure and vocabulary are more unique. This is particularly true for Moroccan and Algerian Arabic. Of course, as for all languages, each of these dialects will be divided into regional sub-dialects, accents and colloquialisms.
Thanks to Egypt’s prolific media production, with numerous movies, dramas, comedies and TV series, Egyptian Arabic is widely understood across the Arab speaking world regardless of their local dialect, but that does not mean that localizing audio or audiovisual material into Arabic should necessarily be in Egyptian Arabic, far from it, as it would detract from identification by your targeted audience and lack the personalized connection inherent to local language.
So, whenever you think about localizing into Arabic, it is always best to consult a specialist and clearly state not only what is the target region, but also what is the aim of the material to be translated. Only with a clear understanding of the target audience geographical location and of the purpose of the material will a specialist be able to advise you adequately about which Arabic is suitable for your project.