The Ultimate Guide to Arabic Language Word Processing on your Mac: Microsoft Word, and more…

By Will Ward

More and more of our clients at Industry Arabic are now using Apple computers. And while I love my new Macbook Air, there are some pretty significant barriers to working with Arabic text on a Mac.

The issue is not that Apple doesn’t support Arabic language (it does).  The problem is that Microsoft Office for Mac is not built to work with right-to-left languages like Arabic, Farsi, and so on.

And since most workplaces use Office as the standard software package, it is difficult (but not totally impossible) to use Office for Mac as an Arabic language word processor.

First off, let’s stop for a minute and reflect on how outrageous it is that Microsoft has not included this critical function in Office for Mac, the standard “work” software used around the world.

If you’re like me, you can join this Facebook group calling on Microsoft to offer Arabic support in future versions of Office for Mac.

Using Arabic on Mac is more difficult than on a Windows PC but it’s not impossible. So we’ve put together this quick guide for getting the most out of your Mac within an Arabic environment

Enabling Arabic Language Support on the Mac

The first step is to turn on Arabic language support within Apple’s OS X operating system. 

Click the Apple logo at the top left of your screen and select “System Preferences,” then click “Language & Text” and then select the “Input Sources” tab, as shown in the screenshot below.  Select “Arabic” from the list of languages.

It’s also a good idea to check the “Keyboard & Character Viewer” box, as this will give you the option to use the on screen keyboard to input Arabic characters, in addition to the keyboard.

Now when you go to the upper right corner of your screen you should see a little flag icon (in my case U.S. for American English). Click that icon and you will see a drop down menu for you to select Arabic (and whatever other input languages you need).

Use this menu to toggle between input languages once you have enabled them in System Preferences > Language & Text.

If you are going to be doing extensive Arabic word processing and your computer doesn’t have an Arabic-style keyboard, you will want to consider buying some Mac Arabic keyboard stickers, so you can see which key goes with which letter and type quickly.

If you just need to do minor edits or type the occasional email, you can use the text-input function at Yamli.com.

You can also use the on-screen keyboard to click letters with your mouse; just select the “Show Keyboard Viewer” option in the image above and hunt and peck away.

Using Microsoft Word for Mac To Edit Existing Documents

If you are trying to work with an Arabic language Word doc that someone has sent you, one of two things are going to happen when you open the file on your Mac:

  1. The file will work totally normally in Arabic (about 40% of the time)
  2. The file will contain weird formatting glitches, e.g. some text will appear as little boxes, or letters will be disconnected from each other (about 60% of the time)

If the document looks okay, you’ve hit the jackpot and can take your colleagues out for a celebratory Starbucks.

If not, it’s time for Plan B.

Plan B: The Google Drive Workaround

If your document doesn’t open correctly in Word, the only way you will be able to see it is with a little trick using Google Drive (formerly known as Google Docs).  Here’s how it works:

Step 1: If you don’t already have a Google account, create one here.

Step 2: Open your Google Drive page by going to http://drive.google.com

Step 3: Click the upload button, select “files” and then find and select the Arabic “.docx” file you want to work with. The file will upload to Google, and you should be able to see your file in the list.  Click the file to open and view.

Step 4: If you need to actually edit the file you are working with, just select the file from your Google Drive file list and click “Export to Google Docs.” This will create an editable version of the file that you can work with using the Google Docs editor.

Step 5: When you are finished editing your file, you can download a version of it to share with your colleagues, in MS Word, PDF, or RTF formats.

A caveat: this system can go wrong when you are dealing with heavily formatted documents, and large files that are slow to upload and process in the Google Drive system.

But this trick is workable for emails, short articles, and other routine jobs.

So there you have it, a quick and dirty, but by no means foolproof, method of working with Microsoft Office files on your Mac.

It remains frustrating that a better solution doesn’t exist, so maybe it’s time to revisit that Facebook petition to get Microsoft to support Arabic language in Office for Mac…

Finally, if you’d like Industry Arabic to get rid of your Arabic language translation and word processing headaches for good, just contact us at the form below to discuss a project.

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