Translations and DTP from Right to Left

We have to pay special attention when translating languages that are written from right to left, as what is a “no-brainer” for native speakers may not be for readers of an alphabet in the opposite direction. Within this group of readers we can also include clients, who often ask for our advice on some issues that are related to text directionality.

For native speakers of languages that are mainly based on Latin, it ​​can be somewhat complex to understand the layout of text written in an alphabet whose direction is opposite to their own.

In general, within languages ​​that are written right to left we can include Hebrew and languages using the Arabic alphabet, which include (among others) Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, Dari, and some Kurdish dialects.

As a translation agency, we often times work with languages ​​whose direction is from right to left, and we know that the direction of writing involves many components to consider beyond the mere directionality of text. It is important to consider many issues both when quoting a project as well as when performing quality checks before final delivery to a client.

Here we share some of the many issues to consider:

– Platform on which one will work: In some programs, you cannot simply overwrite the original text with its translation, precisely due to working with texts going in opposite directions. In some versions of InDesign, for example, we must resort to InDesign Middle East in order to recreate the target translation language, thereby converting it into a mirrored image of the original text on another platform intended only for these languages. Similarly, in many translation tools one must configure the language before beginning in order to be able to write from right to left and have the layout set with the correct parameters for text direction beforehand.

– Configuration of the bi-directionality of the platform to be worked on: In the Microsoft Office package, it is sufficient to activate the “Text direction from left to right” and “Text direction from right to left” commands (these commands can be selected in “Options,” then “Customize”). Both have the same symbol ¶ (show all), but smaller.

– Direction of images: not only does the direction of the text change; the whole layout accompanies its direction. That is, if our original English version has a picture on the left, chances are that in the Arabic text that image will be on the right.

– Bullets and Numbering: Something similar happens with bullets. The ones we see on the first column in the source text will probably be in the second column of the target text, and in a reversed direction as well. Another thing to note here is that we should check if the numbers should also be in the target alphabet, as there is no one rule to follow; rather, this is decided on a case-by-case basis. We could have a text in Arabic whose numbering uses the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc; but in other cases, the same numbering could be ١٢٣.

– Alignment: Text alignment is not immune to this topic, but rather, the same criteria apply; in the case of these languages, the alignment will be reversed. It is worth noting some conflicts when it comes to the coexistence of two languages ​​in the opposite direction in the same text: for example, we have English and Pashto. The alignments are contradictory, and this can present a challenge.

Another detail that is just as important, but that is not directly related to the direction of text, is to make sure that we have the correct fonts in order to display all the text and to prevent any “rarities” in our translated material.

It never hurts to clarify that whenever dealing with languages more distanced from our own culture, it is always recommended to have a native translator in that language review the material, after all DTP has been completed, to ensure that everything is in its correct place.

If you have any material to translate into any language whose writing direction is from right to left, you can send your inquiry to Translation Services and one of our representatives will be happy to assist you.