Arabic is what brings us together

I’m a big fan of Google- I use everything from Gmail to Google Docs, Calendar Translate, Reader, Google Maps (saved me so many times), Blogger, Scholar, Chrome; I even used to use Wave (and I’m still upset that they shut it down- the world just wasn’t ready yfor it I suppose), and used to have an Android phone (I got a good deal on the iPhone 4, I couldn’t resist!).

So you can imagine my delight when I was invited to attend a press conference at UAE G-day, and lunching with??Nelson Mattos??afterwards (he was nice enough to make time for my questions!). It’s the first event of its kind by Google in the UAE, with lots of sessions throughout the two-day event for uni students and developers to make the most of Google products. It’s really great to see this kind of support from The Big Guys here in the Middle East- I only wish this kind of support existed in 2005 when I was a computer science graduate…perhaps my career path would’ve taken a totally different direction!

One thing that stood out to me at the??press conference, was the level of Arabic localization- not translation, there’s a difference-??Google was working on for the region (starting with the UAE). From map maker, to map directions in Arabic (btw, have you noticed that you can get around Dubai’s bizarre road layout with proper routes on Google Maps? Yep, these guys have been working on it! You can opt to avoid highways and Salik!), we’re starting to see more and more content that caters to this region- something that is seriously lacking (less than 1% of online content is in Arabic!).

Whilst I’ve tried to improve my Arabic over the years (I’ve come a long way in the past decade or so, but it still needs work), my language interests have always lied in learning Italian. I studied Italian for 5 years (but that was ages ago; my skills are beyond rusty), and I’ve been working on making time to sign up and attend classes.

Meeting and chatting with Fayeq Oweis*- Google’s Arabic localization manager- however, rekindled my interest in the Arabic language. When I asked asked him about Arabic dialects and if they’re going to be incorporated into Google products, he mentioned that they’re working on something very exciting along those lines for voice search (awesome!), but not for any of the other products (i.e. choosing Arabic- lebanon, Arabic- egypt etc. as a ‘language’) as he believes that the Arabic language needs to be preserved in its classical form because it’s “what brings Arabs together”. That last statement really struck a chord within me- for the first time I really understood the value of knowing Arabic, and felt proud of it.His passion for the language and the way he spoke about the localization project was inspiring as well, so I’m definitely looking forward to the rollout of other parts of the Arabic localization project!

*Fayeq Oweis manages the Arabic Localization team at Google. He works on Google’s localized Arabic products, performs linguistic QA, manages terminology and style guide, and collaborates with different teams on the Arabization of Google products and services.????Fayeq holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Concentration on Arabic and Islamic Studies. Before joining Google, Fayeq worked for many years as an Arabic language specialist and consultant for technology companies in the Silicon Valley. He was also a professor of Arabic Language and Culture at Santa Clara University in California.

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