With 420 million native speakers worldwide, Arabic is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world. It is the official language of 28 countries, as well as one of the official languages of the United Nations. Despite this, Arabic is one of the trickiest languages when it comes to recording foreign-language voice-over, in part because of its unique history and development.
This post will list the three things that any localization project manager must know before starting an Arabic audio translation project.
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To understand Arabic today, it’s crucial to know that the Arabic used in the Quran became a kind of lingua franca for the Arabic-speaking world. Because of this, two things happened at once in the Arabic-speaking world since the 8th century. First, the different Arabic-speaking locales – all the way from Northwest Africa to Eastern Iran – developed very different, and sometimes mutually unintelligible, colloquial versions of the language, which some linguists consider dialects or even distinct languages, but which share many common features. However, education after the rise of Islam focused on what’s known as Classical Arabic – the Arabic used in the Quran. Thus, the development of a lingua franca.
With that brief history lesson out of the way, here are the three things you must know before finalizing a localization plan with Arabic voice-over services provider.
Modern Standard Arabic is effectively Classical Arabic, but – as its name implies – “modernized” to include words and concepts that weren’t around in the 8th century. In fact, many Arabic speakers don’t make a distinction between MSA and Classical Arabic. The great thing about MSA is that many people in the Arab world learn it at school. The bad thing is that it’s not commonly used in colloquial or everyday speech.
MSA is pretty useful for corporate communications, e-Learning, and generally for very formal communications. However, it’s not great for a lot of marketing or even for some entertainment content, or content going to a specific locale in the Middle East or Northern Africa.
There are a few main regional variants of Arabic spoken colloquially:
It’s key to understand that the regional variations aren’t mutually intelligible, so that you most often can’t re-use one Arabic voice over talent to record for two locales. That said, you may find talents who can record both a Modern Standard Arabic and a regional variation, though this is tricky to do well.
The regional variants in the list above contain many regional accents or even distinct dialects within them. Likewise, there are many other dialects of Arabic with large populations of native speakers, like Najdi and Hejazi Arabic, both spoken in Saudi Arabia, and both with millions of native speakers (about 10 and 6, respectively). Likewise, some relatively standardized variants of Arabic, like Egyptian Arabic, have distinct dialects – for example, Cairene, which is spoken primarily in Cairo, and which is very prominent. Or, as a final example, a client in Kuwait may want a specifically local accent, rather than a more general Gulf Arabic one.
The key is to remember that specificity is crucial in Arabic audio translation.
Is your content a corporate or official message that works well in MSA? Or are you dubbing a TV spot for Sudan, which would really benefit from being recorded in Sudanese Arabic? More importantly, who is your audience? What regional variant of Arabic do they use in their daily lives? Are they well-versed in Modern Standard Arabic, and do they expect it in the context of your audio or video? You must ask yourself both these questions before beginning localization. Finally, if at all possible, engage your local partners – whether employees, marketing managers, or even local contacts – during the process, from script proofing to voice sample review, to ensure that your localizaed content really speaks to your local audience.
Download “7 Myths of Audio & Video Translation,” JBI Studios’ indispensable guide to audio translation and dubbing.