Tuesday September 15, 2009

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Arabic Translations – Different as Night and Day!

With the contemporary emphasis on the Middle East, Arabic Translation, transcription and editing have become big business. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the translations produced are at best inaccurate, and in many cases incomprehensible, misleading, and/or just downright wrong. This can lead to loss of communication, loss of time, and for companies trying to do business in the Middle East, it can lead to great financial losses and misunderstandings.

To start with, Arabic is not a single language. There are 23 “Arab” nations – each with its own language variations, nuances and cultural influences. And within the nations, are regional variations comparable to the U.S. regional usage differences. For example - in Buffalo, NY a flavored carbonated drink is “pop.” Further down state in NYC, it’s soda and in Boston it is tonic! In Kuwait the Arabic word “kabat” means cupboard in Lebanon the same word means to repress.

Further complicating the process are the variations, grammatical inconsistencies and idioms of the English language that often do not translate well to or from Arabic. There may not be a direct translation of English words into Arabic or Arabic words into English. It takes a thorough knowledge of both languages to ensure that the word choices result in complete accuracy.

Bad translations can come from a number of sources. First are machine or software-based translations. Even the best of these programs can only provide the most literal of translations, based solely on the language dictionary specifics that are in the database.  They do not think, or reason, or allow for needed interpretation to ensure a sensible movement from one language to the other. Next are translations by Arabic speakers with no experience or in-depth knowledge of the Middle East. These people may have taken classes in generic Arabic, but have little or no knowledge of the language variations. There are others who may have lived or worked in the Middle East, learned to speak the language – but never studied it to truly understand its complex grammar.

To ensure your Arabic translations won’t be misunderstood or even laughed at by the end-user, an individual, government entity, or private company will best be served by seeking an educated native speaker with first-hand experience in multiple Middle East locations, and therefore multiple Arabic languages, cultures and nuances. And, this translator/transcriber/editor must have a thorough knowledge of English.

The best translators can certify the accuracy of their work, and will work with you to understand your  audience and desired outcome so as to be sure the level of language meets your purpose.

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