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Common Mistakes in Arabic Translations

Arabic is one of several languages that are challenging to translate. It’s a Central Semitic language and belongs to an extremely old language family that also contains Phoenician, Ugaritic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Arabic is the sixth most spoken language in the world, and the official language in 22 countries as of 2018, with 275 million native speakers.

Most of the Arab world speak Modern Standard Arabic, which is more conservative and distinct than the various spoken Arabic dialects. All the variants of Arabic are within an environment called diglossia, where a language has different verbal and written varieties, wherein it is not always written the way it is spoken. The spoken dialects of Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic are used in different cultural and social contexts.

Expansive language

Arabic’s orientation is right to left. The script is unique, and its alphabet has 28 letters. The translation is difficult, and there are times when one source of text can have three or more translations, with each one different, but regarded as correct.

Arabic is an expansive language that has a variety of words for some terms. It is said that it has 11 words to describe love (in various stages), and more than 100 words for a camel. The words are quite descriptive. For example, a female camel that walks ahead of the rest is called al-harib. 

According to estimates, Russian has about 130,000 words, while French has 150,000. English has about 600,000 words, whereas Arabic is believed to have 12.3 million words.

Arabic and its dialects

Modern Standard Arabic is based on Classical Arabic. It is used in formal speech and writing. In the Arab League, almost all printed materials, such as official documents, books, magazines, and newspapers use Modern Standard Arabic.

The differences between the various Arabic dialects and Modern Standard Arabic are found in the grammatical structure and pronunciation.

Spoken Arabic or the dialects can be classified into different groups, namely:

·       Iraqi

  • Egyptian
  • North African – spoken in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco
  • Hassaniya – spoken in Mauritania
  • Gulf – used in Oman, the U.A.E., Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait
  • Najdi – used in Central Saudi Arabia
  • Hejazi – spoken in Western Saudi Arabia
  • Yemeni – used in Southwestern Saudi Arabia and Yemen
  • Levantine – used in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon

Challenges in translating the Arabic language

As one of the most challenging languages to translate, it is critical for clients to work with a professional translation agency that has native Arabic speakers to take on their translation projects.

One of the main challenges is culture. An Arabic word may require a few sentences in English to fully explain its meaning. The translator cannot have a word-for-word translation but should explain the facts behind the word.

Arabic may be expansive, but there are times when a long text in Arabic will become shorter when translated into English. The translator has to choose the right word that will intensify the meaning of the word. Arabic has different ways to deliver the same meaning, which may either take the form of longer sentences.

The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters, while English has 26. Even with the slight difference in number, several Arabic letters do not have direct English equivalents. This fact makes translating Arabic names into English difficult. In such cases, the translator has to choose the letters closest to the sounds made in Arabic.  

Common errors in Arabic translation

The nature of the language makes it easy for novice translators to commit mistakes when handling Arabic translation. What is vital is to understand the dynamics of Arabic and English, for example, to achieve a high level of accuracy. With such a complex language, it is always a good idea to learn the common mistakes that you can commit as a translator, so you can try to avoid them.

Document formatting

It is typical for a document processing program to have the align-left option as its default. Since Arabic is from right to left, the translator should always use the align-right format. If using a text editor, do not forget the use the right-to-left option.


The translator has to be careful about spacing, which can alter the meaning of the sentence. It is common not to see any space before or after punctuations. Moreover, it is essential to use page breaks instead of several blank lines.


This is an area where the experience of the translator shows. Arabic evolved from an oral form; therefore, there are no standard conventions when it comes to punctuations. Some Arabic writers write a single sentence in one long paragraph without any pause. Punctuations used today are diacritics placed over or below some letters, which indicate short vowels. They are used for intonation, pronunciation, grammatical functions. A sentence may have a period to show a full stop, although it is possible to see commas as full stop indicators.


Arabic does not have upper case letters for proper names, initial words, and abbreviations. In its place, Arabic uses quote marks and round brackets. If these marks are left out, the names and other terms that need upper case letters can be considered as common nouns.

Special symbols and abbreviations

Abbreviations, acronyms, and titular contractions, such as etc., PM, or Dr., are not used in Arabic, because of the issue with capitalization. Instead, foreign abbreviations are written in their full form in Arabic.


Commas are commonly used in English sentences as separators. In Arabic, they use a conjunction (و) instead of a comma, and an optional (و) or zero punctuation between adjectives. An excellent translator understands the rules regarding the use of commas, conjunctions and other punctuation marks when handling Arabic translations.

Experience and expertise in Arabic translation services – only from eTS

Arabic translation requires a professional translator with long years of experience and expertise. The requirements for translating Arabic into English or other languages are quite strict, because of the complexity of the language, the absence of many features that are common in other languages, the vastness of its vocabulary, and the words that do not have a direct translation into English. Be sure that you work only with native-speaking, professional Arabic translator who can give you high quality and accurate translation. Whenever you need Arabic translation wherever you are, please send us an email at [email protected] or call (800) 882-6058.

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