Challenges of Games Localization into Arabic

Among many activities, translation might be the easiest part of an into Arabic game localization project. This is due to the unique nature of Arabic, which is reflected in almost all localization activities, from the resource selection, through the preparation/familiarization, translation, and adaptation (cultural adaptation and script adaptation/diacritization), voiceover to the final QA.

Resource Selection
You should use linguists who are native Arabic speakers with a very high proficiency in the source language. Consulting an SME (who is a gamer in this case) might also be a good idea.

Preparation and Familiarization
Don’t think your translation team can simply receive the prepped files for translation and start translating the game script. Give them some time to play; they have to play the game themselves to get acquainted with the environment. You need to consider this in your schedule unless you are so lucky to have linguists who are already fans of the game!

Translation and Cultural Adaptation
Translators should then be able to produce a translation that looks as if it was originally written in Arabic. Idioms should be indeed “localized” and never be translated word by word.

Context is critical here, and it is better to spend some more time before starting translation than spending much more time in correcting content that has been already recorded and maybe also subtitled! The more in-context details you get from the game developer for every single line, like who says this to whom, how, where and when, the easier your translators will find their way through the maze.

Listing actual duration of each line would be of a great help, too. Don’t get surprised then if you see your translators reading out their translation, trying to count the duration of the Arabic VO for each line!

Cultural adaptation, or what we usually call censorship, is another critical thing to think about. Your team has to spend some time going through the game script and its multimedia content and make sure they culturally fit. If you are not so lucky and they do not, you have to let your game developer/client know that a censorship effort might be required. Censorship effort ranges from very simple one, like replacing some words, phrases or idioms with appropriate ones that are suitable for an Arabic user, to the most complex ones, like having a character that does not fit in the game all the way from the cultural perspective of an Arabic user.

Script Preparation
Tashkil, or adding pronunciation marks, is an important step of the script preparation phase. This is mandatory for Arabic so that you can make sure voice actors will correctly pronounce the script text, taking into consideration that Arabic has many words that have the same spelling but different meanings and pronunciations. That’s why adding diacritics saves much time and ensures higher quality voiceover.

Below is an example of a how diacritics can completely change the meaning of a word. The following word has 6 meanings, and although the meaning might be elicited from the context, but this cannot be left to the VO talent judgment:


The voiceover part also has its own challenges. First of all, translators have to always pay great attention to the length of the Arabic script lines compared to the source. Some parts of the script have tolerance with regards to length, and some others, like the “cut scenes”, have a zero tolerance. During the recording of the VO, the team might still need to make the translations even shorter, which might require having a linguist on site attending the recording sessions.

For example, saying “Hi!” will not take more than a second in the English audio, while the equivalent word in Arabic “مرحبًا! - pronounced as marhaban” does take triple that time or even longer! The VO team has to be creative enough to be able to deal with such challenges; they have to be very quick, too.

Although you might take all these challenges into consideration throughout the project phases, it is normal to find out, during your final QA, that you will still have to re-take few lines. You might notice that one of your actors is not consistent in their tone for a specific character, or maybe they should have used a slightly different tone for a certain line. You might also realize that one of the lines is not fitting into the context of the game (although it is linguistically correct).

Bearing these challenges in mind, localization team members should all work with a perspective of having the Arabic user at the end feels that the game was really meant for them!