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As the Arab world and Middle East is quickly making a name for itself on the international market, it is no wonder the region is starting to focus on translation and localisation. Reine Farhat gives her view on this development, looking at why Arabic is important, who needs machine translation and what its aims should be.

In an article on Wamda, its Arabic editor Reine Farhat, calls language “the medium that connects us to the world.” In Farhat’s opinion, linguistic diversity deserves special attention; this is especially true in the Arab world she states.

She gives the example of startups who wish to reach as many consumers as possible. These companies must make sure they understand linguistic and cultural differences, as many people prefer their native language over the more commonly used English.

According to Farhat, machine translation software and tools are often discussed at Wamda meetings where she works. The company also asked an audience how they felt about using translation tools when visiting a website in a foreign language. The results? 10 out of 16 responses did make use of machine translation when visiting a website in a language they did not understand. Even Farhat’s mother, who, according to her, loves the Arabic language, sometimes relies on machine translation! Not all respondents¬† were 100 per cent satisfied with the current translation tools, however; a number of them complained about their accuracy.

And this accuracy is one of the most important features of translation tools, Farhat believes. She says more and more businesses first publish their content in Arabic, which means translations in other languages must be up to par. Arabic is a difficult language to carry out translations in, Farhat says, as context is very important. Thus, she believes machine translations are a convenient tool to get a grasp of the overall meaning of a text, but human translators are still needed for the translation of entire websites.

Currently, there is an initiative that translates content on the web to Arabic. This initiative is called Taghreedat and is funded by crowdsourcing. Taghreedat was founded in 2011 by Sami Mustafa Mubarak and Mina Takla and has grown immensly in the last two years; currently, more than 13,000 Arabic writers, translators and the like have offered their services to over 15 international businesses such as Whatsapp, Twitter and TED. And the platform just keeps on growing! At the moment, Taghreedat has for example joined forces with Amara, a global YouTube subtitling platform, and Uktub, an Arabic proofreading service that also proofreads video content.

Farhat thinks Taghreedat is a good example for other businesses and creates awareness about the importance of good Arabic translations. However, according to her, many people believe a lot of work needs to be done in this field as many companies focus on the marketing needs of their consumers instead of their cultural and linguistic preferences. Mubarak and Takla agree. They say that companies overlook the fact that consumers highly value companies that communicate with them in their native language.

In May this year, Farhat visited an event called T_Fest (Translation Fest). At this event, the quality and lack of Arabic content on the world wide web was discussed. One of the most difficult topics, she says, was the possible unification of Arabic technological terms. Farhat thinks another T_Fest will be beneficial to keep this subject on the agenda of the Arab community. However, this does not mean unification will have to wait for another event; since 2012, Taghreedat has already been working on a dictionary of Arab technological terms.

Farhat states that she thinks this is a wonderful development, but does give a short comment on the project. She believes it would be wise to develop a dictionary in a collaborative effort to ensure that in the end, everyone will use the same terms. In addition, this will also add to the credibility of the translated terms.

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