The language barrier

Global players in the Middle East's IT market are now looking to Arabisation to give them a competitive edge. Brid-Aine Conway finds out if localised products are a fly-by-night marketing trend or a true representation of regional commitment.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  October 2, 2007

The press releases speak for themselves. Over the last four months, no less than four companies, including three major players, have announced Arabised IT products for the Middle East market. Adobe, Mindware, Avaya and Edutech have all released Arabised versions of products, often in partnership with well-established regional firms.

While this may seem to be a recent trend, Microsoft has been Arabising software since producing an Arabic version of MS-DOS in 1987. This first recognition of the Middle East as a potentially huge consumer of IT has encouraged more and more global firms to look at localising their products for this market.

Just because people speak English doesn’t mean they’re comfortable speaking English – they’re probably much more comfortable operating in their own language.

Although Avaya's launch in May claimed its Arabic-enabled IP telephony system as the region's first, Cisco claims it was an earlier adopter introducing IP telephony systems supporting Arabic in October 2006.

Wael Abdulal, sales business development manager at Cisco, feels that Arabised products are not a bonus to be offered by international companies, but a necessity for firms operating in the Middle East.

"Does every customer want Arabic? The answer is no. Is it important? Absolutely yes. There are companies where if you don't have Arabic, you simply can't be listed," Abdulal says.

According to Internet World Statistics, 2.5% of the world's internet users speak Arabic, ranking the language as the tenth most used on the web. Arabic is also the fourth most spoken language with 256 million speakers around the world. Statistics like these should make Arabisation a no-brainer for any IT manufacturer with global ambition, but this is only part of the story.

It is well known that English is a common choice of second language. When 514 million people speak English as a first language and a large proportion adopts English as a second language, particularly those involved in business, the incentive to localise software to specific markets seems to fade.

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