In the Lingohub blog, we often discuss the essential questions about localization, like how to hack it and deal with the challenges your business can face. This article isn't an exception and describes one of the most critical nuances — text direction in different languages and how Lingohub translation management tool helps to work with it.

Right-to-left (RTL) languages

As the name implies, RTL is a group of scripts written from right to left. Right-to-left (RTL) or bidirectional languages are uncommon in most Western countries, especially when overviewing the web environment. Based on the Statista research in 2023, the top 5 most popular languages for web content are left-to-right (LTR), with a total market share of around 75%. It could seem that localization to RTL languages wouldn't be profitable enough in the context of the statistic above. But let us destroy this delusion with precise figures.

First of all let’s define the most widespread RTL languages:

LanguageNumber of speakersCountries
Arabic~ 370 millionBahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait,
Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman,
Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, Yemen
Hebrew~ 8 millionIsrael
Persian (Farsi)~ 81 millionIran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Dagestan(Russia)
Urdu~ 70 millionPakistan, India
Kashmiri~ 7 millionIndia (Jammu and Kashmir regions)
Pashto~ 51 millionAfghanistan
Uyghur~ 11 millionChina (‎Xinjiang)‎
Sorani Kurdish~ 7 millionIraq
Punjabi~ 113Pakistan and India (Punjab region)
Sindhi~ 30 millionPakistani (province of Sindhi)

The language's speakers

  1. Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world, with more than 370 million speakers, and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
  2. Around 6 million people speak Hebrew as a native language, and above 2 million as a second.
  3. Persian or Farsi has approximately 110 million speakers in the world.

By counting only these three RTL language data, we can see that almost 500 million people can be your business customers with the right localization strategy.

The language's spreading

  1. Arabic is the official language in 16 countries and co-official in 7 countries of Asia and Africa (Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc.)
  2. Around 65% of Israel speaks Hebrew.
  3. Persian, (which uses the Arabic alphabet) is spoken in around 26 regions.

The economy of the countries with RTL languages

When you go to the new market, you will do detailed research on the region. Just consider the countries like Kuwait (which has 9% of world oil reserves) or Saudi Arabia, which shows a constant economic rise.

So "to be or not to be" isn't a question - the West/Middle Asian and South African markets could be an outstanding direction for your business, and localization to these regions will bring you a profit.

Localization for RTL languages: main challenges Regarding content localization for RTL-oriented languages, there are multiple challenges to consider. Not only is language translation a priority, but it is also essential to ensure that the content appears visually appealing. Let's overview the principal troubles you can face during RTL language localization. We divided them into three main groups - design, development, and translation.

Design challenges

Text direction
One of the crucial challenges for RTL language localization is text direction and, as a result, the elements' location. Remember that while the text is written and reading RTL, the numbers have the opposite direction - LTR. For example:

ltr languages

The RTL language peculiarity will require a design mirroring from the menu to the full navigation, buttons, etc. Recheck all the nuances twice. In the process of UI mirroring, do not forget that not all elements require such action. For example, the playback buttons, progress bars, etc., should be kept as are.

You should find from the start the font, which will be readable with the appropriate size for native speakers. Also, remember that RTL scripts can be different in the context of the height of symbols, so your team should take care of the margins.

Cultural fitting of visual elements
Besides technical questions about the design, you must take care of the national and cultural peculiarities of the region. Many countries from the RTL language group are Muslim and have the opposite view of everyday European things (some gestures can be offensive in the region, etc.) So all your images, icons, logos, etc., must be tested and approved by the local expert or the testing group.

One of the exciting examples of RTL language localization is Netflix. With the pseudo localization technique, they are providing service for more than 150 countries.

netflix rtl localization

Read more about Netflix localization —> Famous product localization overview

Development challenges

Implementation of RTL support in some components
For the RTL version, everything must be turned (positioning, margin/padding, text alignment) the other way. The development team works with a separate style file or expands the existing CSS file. At first glance, it may seem straightforward. However, take, for instance, the slider, which only supports positive values in order. You can't just turn it. You'll need to flip the axis and alter the values accordingly.

Unsupported RTL features
Not all things could be just mirrored. Many countries that use RTL languages have unique rules for habitual things. One such difference is a calendar system. For instance, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries use the Hijri calendar, which is based on lunar observations and cannot be calculated like the Gregorian calendar. In such cases, the development team needs to come up with a new solution for displaying the calendar.

Translators challenges
Lack of the cultural understanding Without living in the country or region, you will never understand the local population, their habits, and cultural norms at the right level for qualified localization. Especially when we are talking about East culture - "The East is a Delicate Matter." That's why one of the first steps for effective localization is hiring native linguists or experts who can:

  • support your business by building the strategy inside the region,
  • provide the information for the style guide,
  • proofread translations and build a correct term base.

For instance, some names like "Twitter" are used in the Western world without any alterations. This rule applies to countries with Romano-Germanic, Slavic languages, etc. However, in Arabic, there is a suitable word that translates to Twitter. If you use the word "Twitter," Arabic-speaking users can misunderstand you. Take a look at the example for two versions.

twitter rtl localization

How can Lingohub support RTL language localization?

Lingohub offers support for over 100 languages and dialects, including RTL. With Lingohub, you can easily localize your product to various locales, such as Arabic (Algeria) - ar-DZ, Arabic (Bahrain) - ar-BH, Arabic (Egypt) - ar-EG, and more. Additionally, Lingohub provides a comprehensive list of features for you to utilize.

Order professional translators
Lingohub is the perfect platform for your project if you need native-speaking experts to adapt or proofread content. You can easily hire linguists for your projects by placing translation orders. Do not worry about the context - the external linguists can use your project's style guide, and Lingohub from its side will provide translators with relevant information based on the project's term base and quality checks.

Keep unique style
Keeping your tone of voice consistent and correctly addressing your audience is crucial. With Lingohub, you can create multiple style guides for different audiences. It is an essential tool for maintaining consistency in your communication. Moreover, not only linguists, but marketers and sales teams can use a style guide to keep the entire communication with clients in a single tone.

Be aware of the correct terminology
As previously mentioned, there can be challenges with terminology in RTL languages, as it often differs from commonly used terms (like Twitter naming). The Lingohub term base allows linguists to receive correct translation suggestions without manually searching for the appropriate translation in the product documentation.

Test the design fast and from the first stages
Design is a crucial aspect that should not be taken lightly, as it may lead to problems in the future if ignored. Our blog has already explained why taking a design-first approach in localization is essential and how it can save significant time and money. To streamline the design checking process, Lingohub has developed a Figma plugin that enables you to easily transfer text from Figma to Lingohub and back with just a few clicks.

Read more: ---> Localization of Figma design

List of right-to-left languages

The 12 right-to-left languages are available in the list below.

ISO Language CodeLanguage Name

Localize RTL languages with Lingohub

We hope this article has helped you better understand RTL languages and the challenges you may present during localization to them. At Lingohub, we are doing our best and continuously developing the platform to provide solutions that simplify localization and automate manual tasks. Our team will gladly assist you if you require further information or have any additional questions. Book a quick demo call, and let's grow together.

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