Why the Arabs are lost in translation..

I would like to spend a few words in response to the blog post written by my friends at MeedanWhy Middle East social-web projects miss their target audience“.  You’ve touched one very weak point -maybe the weakest- concerning the state of the Arabic web: the language issue. The gap Arabic/English is there, and you’re right when you say that basically “when in Rome, do what the Romans do”. Anyway, the point is exactly here: what are the Romans (the Arabs) doing right now?

All the qualified training programmes -particularly in media field, but also in science, engineer, etc- all across the Arab world are.. in English! Go visit all the most important universities in the Arab world and you will see that the majority is offering courses and training in English. It’s not by chance that many foreigners that want to learn the Arabic language go to Syria. I had myself the privilege to experience both Syrian public university in Damascus -Faculty of Journalism- and the very qualified Syrian International Academy which gives the best and professional training in public relations and media related-issues..in Arabic (btw, thanks for the compliments about my Syrian Arabic, but it’s exactly for those reasons here above that I can speak, having learned it in a place where media training in Arabic is still strong).

It’s true,  social-web trainings such as the one we did with Royal Film Commission in Jordan would deserve to be done in Arabic, in order to include people from countries -like Iraq-where students are not so comfortable in English as they are in other countries like Lebanon or Jordan.  But I don’t think we missed our target audience. Joi Ito, the trainer and Creative Commons’ Ceo, speaks English and I don’t think a live translation would have been so effective as his words were, directly, to the students. There are “places” sometimes in human interaction where translation can’t go too much further, in order not to start to be literally “lost” in that translation.

We are thinking, next time, to offer a training in Arabic for Arabic speakers only, but it would be a different one. Arab trainers -or foreigners who speak enough good Arabic- should train the students, I personally don’t think translation can be effective in all the human interaction situations, and having even a live translation of such a workshop done by an English speaker would never be the same, cause something will be irreparably lost in translation.  Instead, we should maybe encourage Arabs and Arabic speakers to train in Arabic -despite of the difficulties of translating the web 2.0 into this beautiful language-  by tailoring the contents of the training itself directly for an Arabic-only speaking audience. Language has got a culture inside itself and, again, having followed journalism training in Arabic I think I can guess some of the nuances that will always be lost in translation.

Speaking about that, it’s very important to remind the work of organisations such as Social Media Exchange in Beirut and the Arab Digital Expression Foundation in Cairo that are putting lots of efforts in doing web 2.0 training directly in Arabic, with a different methodology and not only a different terminology due to the translation.

But, again, I guess the problem is bigger than it seems: how we can have more Arabs speaking Arabic and producing content in Arabic? How we can encourage this process? Is this only a matter of translation -or is it rather a matter of establishing the culture itself of training in Arabic, a culture that most of the Arab world itself lacks?

Jordan Media Institute, the soon-to-be-open media training school in Jordan, is putting together one of the few available journalism curricula in Arabic. Syrian International Academy has been doing this for many years now. Al Jazeera does have a very high level training in the media field and in Arabic, of course. But what about all the other existing universities all across the Arab world?

If the Arabs themselves consider Arabic to be the proper language only for literature and poetry, while media and journalism should be left to English, no translation in the world would ever been able to fill any gap.

Because, as I’ve heard in a theatre play while in Damascus:  “Without Al Jazeera and  the foreigners  desperately trying to learn the language, nobody would ever speak Arabic in the Arab world“.

Sadly, it was supposed to be a comedy.

5 thoughts on “Why the Arabs are lost in translation..

  1. Hey, Donatella. We talked about this at the comic jam and here is the link http://arabcomics.net

    This will probably not mean a lot to those who didn’t grow up reading those comics, but these guys are active archivists of the translated and homegrown comics that were popular in the Arab world in the 70’s up until the 90’s.

    Not only are they scanning and uploading their archives, but they are writing up articles about the medium and actively fan-translating new material from Japan and the US.

    Arabic is becoming a more archaic language for a combined number of reasons; social, political and technological. I also agree with the symptom you mentioned, which is the lack of content production in that language. These symptoms are typical of societies that have a large diaspora, but let’s not overlook the many grassroots efforts mushrooming on the web.

    • Thanks Samandal! It’s a very cool website, shukran kteer:)
      and yes, I think that there are now a number of cool grassroots initiatives on the Arabic web that we should mention and follow..Shukran!

  2. أوافقك يا دونا، و أختلف مع ميدان أن الترجمة هي الحل. فمادام المشاركون العرب في الفعاليات لا يكتبون عنها بالعربية فإن الترجمة لن تكون مجدية إلا بشكل طفيف.

    مؤخرا أصبحت أصر على أن تكون مراسلات و محتوى الندوات التي أشارك فيها جمهورا عربيا كلها بالعربية.

  3. Pingback: Getting Everybody Talking in a Multilingual Crowd | SMEX: Channeling Advocacy

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