Multilingual DTP (Desktop Publishing) is an essential part of the localization process for visual materials, whether print or digital. As we explained in an earlier post, “Multilingual DTP: Process and Procedures,” text expansion and other factors require reformatting after translation to match the source and properly express your brand identity. Languages that read right-to-left, such as Arabic and Hebrew, require special attention during localization.

Everything starts on the right

arabic likert scaleFor right-to-left languages, the entire layout needs to be oriented right-to-left, not just the text.  In English, we read tables left to right, but Arabic-language tables need to be oriented right to left. If you were to ask a survey question that requires an answer on a scale between one and ten, it would need to be organized with the lowest value on the far right.

If a series of images is meant to viewed in sequence, left-to-right languages would position the first step or level on the left hand side. In Arabic, the first image in the sequence would appear on the right hand side.

two pics push pullHere’s another example, this one a brochure which was developed by graphic design firm TDL London to help Syrian refugees prepare for cold weather.   Note that the eye-catching illustrations were placed at the right hand side on the Arabic version to suit right-to-left reading habits.

English stay warm arabic stay warm








These design issues might not occur to a Western person who habitually reads left to right.  For example, one of our recent projects required adapting the icons and images to make sure they were oriented correctly.  Notice that the small clipboard image within the center icon has been flipped in the Arabic version, to orient check marks down the right hand side.

english icons

arabic icons

Another tricky point about localization into Arabic is that when proper nouns or brand names remain in English (or another language that uses left-to-right script), the text needs to reverse direction. You can see, above, where the associations’ names and company name need to appear in parenthesis.  For an inexperienced designer, changing text direction mid-stream can be rather frustrating.

While these may seem like minor details, if they aren’t changed, the reader will notice.

What about the fonts?

If the client doesn’t own a license for a right-to-left font, and if the standard fonts that come free with design software are not suitable, the question of which font to use can cause problems for designers who do not often work with these languages. This is easily resolved if your DTP provider already owns licenses for a variety of foreign-text fonts, which is a good reason to work with professionals who are familiar with issues surrounding right-to-left DTP.

Experienced multilingual DTP providers are familiar with other layout issues such as appropriately increasing the font size, localizing source text that is in italics or underlined, adapting the “leading” (pronounced LED-ing, referring to space between lines) and dealing with soft line breaks and other details.

If you are planning to translate into Arabic, Persian, or any other right-to-left language, be sure to work with a Language Service Partner who can provide Arabic-language DTP as well as translation. Fully localized content should look as though it has been developed specifically for your audience, especially with respect to formatting and design.

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