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Orientation of Languages in Localization



Why are some languages written from left-to-right and some from right-to-left? Do you know some are even written vertically? This has to do with the evolution of languages over the years. This plays an important part in localization and if you are a part of this industry and intend to know more about orientation of languages, read on.

Orientation of Languages
Language is an important component of Localization. Translators who assist through the localization process should be well versed with the socio, geo-political, cultural and historical value of a local language. If one is looking to expand business away from the comforts of their geographic zones, they have to be ready to adapt the rules of the foreign language, which sometimes may not suit their tastes. Today there are around 6,500 languages known to be spoken by people all over the world. This in itself explains the scope and extent ones business has in the global scenario. There definitely lies a golden opportunity awaiting but not without potential discomforts of language orientation.

Before we proceed further, here is a fact file on world languages.

Language Approximate number
of speakers
Chinese 1197000000
Spanish 414000000
English 335000000
Hindi 260000000
Arabic 237000000
Portuguese 203000000
Bengali 193000000
Russian 167000000
Japanese 122000000
Javanese 84300000

Moving back to the subject, adapting to a new language and the way it is written is a difficult task. Not only do the translators face the heat for learning the grammar they also have to take care of the style and other aspects. While most languages are written from left-to-right (LTR), some are also written from right-to-left (RTL). The catch is that translators have to put in extra efforts to master the art and skills of RTL languages, which is an arduous task.

Being in the translation industry can be thrilling! Apart from the mundane job of translating a language, translators are exposed to various other learning perks attached with the language. They get to feel the new language as a separate entity as well as within the cultural and historical frameworks. Technology has taken a big leap today and is offering favorable conditions for work opportunities and business expansions. Mobile apps and desktop versions are locked in a fierce battle to win over each other. This however, has opened the floodgates of opportunities for businesses and translators. If reports are to be believed then the demand for mobile apps in the following languages is getting stronger by the day. English (28%), Spanish (15%), Simplified Chinese (12%), Japanese (5%), Korean (4%), French (4%), German (3%), Italian (2%), Portuguese are most wanted languages on handhelds. On the other hand, popular languages for website users include English (26.8%), Chinese (24.2%), Spanish (7.8%), Japanese (4.7%), Portuguese (3.9%), German (3.6%), Arabic (3.3%), French (3.0%), Russian (3.0%), Korean(2.0%), and others (17.8%).

Surprisingly Arabic shares a 3.3% market share! Arabic, is a popular language spoken by more than 290 million people in Asia and Africa. It belongs to RTL category. Other languages that fall in this category include Hebrew, Mandaen and Syriac. All these four languages have derived their scripts from Aramaic. Another language Samaritan falls in the RTL group but derives its script from Proto-Hebrew. Farsi and Urdu also belong to RTL group.

Twitter, the popular social media platform comes in 28 languages and interesting supports right-to-left text and hashtags. Like twitter, businesses with a global eye aim to be language friendly and thus are working hard to uncomplicate the complexities of RTL languages. However, have you ever wondered why do languages differ in orientation? Isn’t it interesting that some languages are written from left-to-write while some are written from right-to-left and some are written horizontally?

The debate is still on to figure out the real intention of writing certain languages from RTL. However, Chinese and Japanese are two popular languages written horizontally or vertically. The theory behind these languages is that they are based on characters rather than letters and hence are written differently than LTR or RTL languages.

It is essential that businesses that wish to spread their wings in other countries make their websites and mobile apps a non-English friendly space. This helps serve two purposes in one go – inform and entice!