Bidirectional Languages, Everything You Need To Know

Bidi languages
"Bidirectional languages"

Ever heard or read “Bidi languages” term? It refers to “Bi-directional Languages”, which contains both right-to-left (RTL) and left-to-right (LTR) writing orders. This leads to a mixed direction of text segments described as “Bidirectional.”
Mistakenly, people always think that only Arabic and Hebrew languages are bidirectional. However, it is not about the language, it is about the script/alphabet the language uses. A Bidi language is any language written using:

Arabic (Perso-Arabic) script such as Arabic, Persian (Farsi), Urdu, Uyghur, Pashto, Kurdish (Sorani), Punjabi and Sindhi languages. Or
- Hebrew Script such as the Hebrew and Yiddish languages.  

Common features

- These languages are written from Right to Left.
- Supporting Bidi means supporting 10+ languages.

before you localize into Bidi languages you should take a look to at the Arabic Letters. Below topics will highlight the basic criteria for RTL languages.



Bidi Support
It is not about Right alignment, full mirroring and definitely not translation. It’s all about expected behavior; “Bidi support is the ability to input and display text layout in either right-to-left (RTL) or left-to-right (LTR) order, considering the alignment.
That’s why some computer programs or platforms fail to display bidirectional text correctly. If you check the following screenshot, for example, you’ll find that even if the text is translated into Arabic, Bidi
behavior is not supported:

- Wrong reading order (all text reads from Left to Right).
- Left aligned.


While if you check the screenshot below; Bidi features are fully supported:

- RTL and LTR reading order.
- Right aligned.

Flipping and Mirroring
Bidi users’ thinking, understanding and surrounding digestion -most of the time- goes from right to left, but that does not mean you have to flip or mirror everything for them to understand. Some icons, symbols and shapes stay as is.
So, let’s take a look on what should be flipped and what shouldn’t:
To be flipped/mirrored:

- Flip the Back and Forward icons.
- Same for arrows.
- Images location should be flipped (not the images themselves).
- Columns start from the right.
- Start buttons.
- Horizontal progress bar.
- Rating.
- Page number.
- Circular progress indicators.
- Percent symbol position.
Not to be flipped/mirrored:

- The check marks.
- Media Player control buttons.
- Don’t flip the image itself!
- Clock digits or icons.
- Mouse cursor direction.
- Phone number.
Numeral System

Mainly, there are two numbering systems for Arabic:

- Original Arabic digits (1, 2, 3,…) which are used more in Gulf area.
- Hindi digits (check the image) used more in other Middle East countries.

Arabic numbers are also used in Hebrew language.
In all cases, numerals are written and read from left to right, just like in English; e.g. for telephone numbers, clock, financials, etc.


Following the RTL writing and right alignment, some of the Arabic punctuation (a’lamat al tarqeemعلامات الترقيم - ) have slightly different shapes that follow the writing direction. Almost all the Arabic punctuation marks have the same functions as in the English language though.
English Arabic Hebrew
. full stop noqta . נקודה .
: colon noqtatan : המעי הגס :
, comma faselah ، פְּסִיק ,
; semi colon faselah manqouta ؛ אֶתְנָח ;
“…” quotation marks a’lamat tansees "..." מֵרְכָאוֹת “…”
() brackets qawsan () סוגריים ()
-…- hyphens shartatain -...- מַקָּף -…-
! exclamation mark a’lamat taa’ajob ! סימן קריאה !
? question mark a’lamat estefham ؟ סימן שאלה ?
Punctuation is important to be done in the right way, as we see some common mistakes as follows:



To support both Arabic/Hebrew script languages, different calendars also should be considered:
- Hijri Calendar.
- Gregorian Calendar (used across the Middle East).
- Hebrew Calendar.

Editing tips

- Arabic and Hebrew keyboard have specific keys to Enable editing from both directions (Toggling). Choosing the language will direct the cursor move and typing direction.

- Cursor movement and text selection should consider both logical (how text is displayed on screen) and physical (how characters actually resides).

Localization tips

- For Arabic script Languages, expect approximate 30% text expansion (Arabic Font is usually 1-2 PT bigger to have the same width for EN string).
- It is not possible to divide Arabic words for starting new lines; however, if line justification is required, Kasheedas (ـــــــ) are used to justify the lines instead of adding spaces.

- Persian alphabet has four characters more than the Arabic alphabet.
- MSA is the written Arabic. Spoken Arabic though has dialects that varies according to the region or area.

Arabic Translation tips (preparation):

- Make sure you translate the sentence according to the gender of the “subject”, as this may make comprehension issues.
- To highlight something (single words or full sentences) use quotation marks (“…’’); as there’s no capitalization.
- Dual state is different from the plural handling which should be considered during translation (lots of False-Positives).
- Regular quality tools don’t spot known Bidi issues for Neutrals.

As Saudisoft, we are good at spotting and finding the Bidi issues easily, since we have a quality check tool that we invented that helps us master this issue.

Tips for I18n:

- Test your application on a modern Bidi enabled platform (OS) – identify the issues upfront.
- Assess the localizability; concatenated text (عـ - ـعـ - ـع), images, …etc.
- Create Pseudo build.
- Invite natives/industry experts to check early in the process and make sure of the context.
Bidirectional languages translation and/or localization is a major step in order to globalize your work and it could be tricky, from the UI/UX to the grammatical and writing issues. Thus, to be well equipped and ready for your Bidi client, Saudisoft can help and guide you through. We have the tools and the practical knowledge in Bidi projects localization, and could help you meet the exact expectation of your Bidi target audience. 


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