Localizing for Right-to-Left Languages

When localizing for right-to-left languages, keep in mind the country you’re targeting, its cultural values, and pay particular attention to graphics.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve encountered with translation for right-to-left languages is the following ad for a painkiller company:

In many Western countries, where we read from left to right, this ad makes sense. One goes from discomfort and pain (sad face), to using the product, and finally becoming comfortable and pain-free (happy face). However, if one tries to read it from right to left, the message conveyed is the opposite.

When advertising in Arabic-speaking countries, it is also important to not have a politically loaded way of advertising, as this is not generally favored. It is more acceptable to change an ad entirely to fit the market if it is too politically loaded, rather than translating it as is.

Family values is important in the Middle East, and this can be represented in many ways. This means that, when you are writing an advertisement for a Western market, it might not necessarily work for the Middle Eastern market, since Western advertisements are often aimed at individuals instead of groups.

Literal translation is not the best idea, either. Cultural differences can render advertisements unsuccessful, and this often means the best decision might draw up an entirely new ad, in order to avoid complications and earning a negative reputation in a certain market because of issues with translation.

When translating advertisements for Middle Eastern audiences, find out whether the advertisement communicates the message properly. Ensure that the cultural context is appropriate for the country.

When making an advertisement, knowing something as simple as the direction a country reads in can make all the difference. Do they read from left to right, or from right to left? The answer is the key to them understanding your message.

About Tim Oldenhuis

I’m a native Dutch translator living in the Netherlands. I translate for Coursera to help make education accessible for everyone. My interests are SEO, Gamification and Marketing. I translate website content and blogs, primarily from English and German into Dutch.