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How do I Become an Arabic Interpreter?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The most important of criteria for becoming an Arabic interpreter is to speak the language. If you are a native speaker — and also fluent in English — you will have no difficulties and you can start looking for jobs to become an Arabic interpreter. If you have had no exposure to Arabic and wish to learn the language, there are many steps to take to become fluent.

The first step in learning Arabic to become an Arabic interpreter is deciding which type of Arabic to learn. There are three kinds: classical Arabic, modern standard Arabic and colloquial Arabic. Classical Arabic, also known as Koranic Arabic, was spoken from the seventh to ninth centuries and can still be found in the Koran. Classical Arabic is pretty much only used to interpret prayer services.

Modern standard Arabic is the modern day version of classical Arabic. There are some differences in writing style and lexis, but Arabic-speaking countries rarely distinguish between the two. If you are considering becoming an Arabic interpreter, you will have to learn modern standard Arabic though no one really speaks it.

Modern standard Arabic is primarily used as a common language for newspaper publications and newscasts throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Occasionally, it will be spoken during a formal speech or a radio broadcast. If you speak modern standard Arabic, you may receive some confusing looks because it sounds very bookish. If you choose to become an Arabic interpreter for a government agency or corporation, where you are interpreting formal speeches, you will have to learn modern standard. In addition, modern standard is considered “proper” Arabic, so you must learn it in order to learn grammar.

In order to verbally communicate effectively in Arabic, you must learn colloquial Arabic. Colloquial Arabic is most commonly spoken throughout the Arab world. Each region has its own dialect, with Egyptian colloquial being the oldest and most widely understood. There are more than two dozen colloquial dialects throughout the Arabic-speaking world. In reality, modern standard and colloquial overlap quite frequently, so learning both types of Arabic is necessary for someone to become an Arabic interpreter.

Once you decide which colloquial Arabic dialect to learn, the other requirements English speakers need to learn Arabic begin to present themselves. Arabic interpreters must not only speak Arabic at a native proficiency level, but they must be able to read and write the language, too. Once again, this reinforces the necessity of learning modern standard Arabic. Arabic has its own alphabet, which is completely different than the Roman alphabet used in English. Arabic is a vocalized text, which means each letter must have a diacritical mark above or below it. Finally, Arabic script is written and read from right to left, which is the opposite direction of English.

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Discussion Comments
By Tufenkian925 — On Jan 08, 2011

Lumping all these regional dialects into a single language known as "Arabic" seems to be as absurd as calling all the mutually unintelligible dialects of China "Chinese." It seems there is a lack of Western understanding that these languages can tend to be as diverse as the languages of Europe, and that, if these terms are used, we might as well call all the "dialects" of Europe "European."

By Armas1313 — On Jan 05, 2011

The various regional dialects of Arabic often include variation based on respect. What this means is that, like Korean or Japanese, Arabic can sound quite different depending on social context, who you are speaking to, and what you are speaking about. Colloquial terms and usage are usually applied to less formal settings and standard terms are used in more formal settings. Understanding where and when different terms and forms of speaking are used is essential, and can also vary based on region.

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