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Google Translate vs. DeepL in Arabic

DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic?

The popular translation tool deepl.com can now translate Arabic! We tested it and pitted it against Google Translate. Some of the results are surprising. Who comes out on top?

Last updated: 2 months ago

DeepL is a translation tool that is particularly popular in Germany. The German company has been using deep learning algorithms for years. Compared to , the translations are often more accurate and more natural.

Arabic has been missing for a long time, which may have something to do with the lack of good translated Arabic texts in large quantities to train the engine.

deepl arabic
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 51

In late January 2024, DeepL shared news that they will now add Arabic to their language options. I've been trying it out and I'm going to talk about what I noticed in this post.

Arabic is DeepL's first language release that is written and read from right to left, so I guess will follow soon. DeepL has launched Arabic first on their web translator and mobile and desktop apps, with browser extensions and the API capability to follow soon. Document translation, formality options, and glossary functionality will also be released at a later date.

Alright, let's give it a try and see how it stacks up to Google Translate.

Note: I haven't included religious texts like Suras of the Qur'an or Hadiths since they're usually translated accurately as they're well-represented in the data used to train translation engines. Also, I've steered clear of academic texts. They tend to have a uniform style and vocabulary, sticking to conventional writing methods. That's why translation tools usually handle them quite well; they're consistent and predictable, which is exactly what those translation systems prefer.

Newspaper articles in Arabic

I will use some sentences of newspaper articles I had previously analyzed in the Media Arabic Booster series.

Articles written in Modern Standard Arabic

This paragraph is taken from a newspaper article which was analyzed in Media Arabic Booster 12/23:

فالحروب العربية الإسرائيلية كان وقودها في الغالب هو الجندي المصري، وكانت جيوشنا من أبناء الريف والحضر هي القوة الضاربة في أعماق الصراع العسكري مع إسرائيل فضلًا عن الدفعة المعنوية التي اكتسبتها حماس بل وكل فصائل المقاومة بعد مواجهة الجبروت الإسرائيلي والقهر المستمر قبل ٧ أكتوبر ٢٠٢٣ والتي زادت إلى حد يفوق الخيال بعد ذلك، إذ إنه مهما تكن النتائج، فإن المقاومة الفلسطينية قد تركت بصمة على جيش إسرائيل لتبقى علامة دائمة في تاريخ الصراع الفلسطيني الإسرائيلي، ولنا هنا بعض الملاحظات

DeepL

The Arab-Israeli wars were mostly fueled by the Egyptian soldier, and our rural and urban armies were the striking force in the depths of the military conflict with Israel, as well as the moral boost that Hamas and even all resistance factions gained after facing Israeli might and continuous oppression before October 7, 2023, which increased beyond imagination after that, as whatever the results, the Palestinian resistance has left an imprint on the Israeli army to remain a permanent mark in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and here we have some observations.

deepl arabic newspaper1
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 52

➤ I have one big issue with this translation: the engine does not recognize that unlike in typical long Arabic sentences, in English we would break it down into 2 or 3 shorter sentences.

Google Translate

The Arab-Israeli wars were mostly fueled by the Egyptian soldier, and our armies of rural and urban people were the striking force in the depths of the military conflict with Israel, in addition to the morale boost that Hamas and even all resistance factions gained after confronting Israeli tyranny and continued oppression before October 7, 2023, which increased to Beyond imagination after that, as whatever the results, the Palestinian resistance has left an imprint on the Israeli army to remain a permanent mark in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and here we have some observations.

google newspaper arabic 1
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 53

➤ Just like DeepL, Google doesn't break down the sentence properly, which is necessary for creating a clear and easily understood English translation.

News article with dialect elements

This paragraph is taken from a newspaper article which was analyzed in Media Arabic Booster 01/24:

“محدش يجرب مصر”، حذّر الرئيس السيسي في كلمة له من مغبة “المساس بسيادة الصومال أو وحدة أراضيه”، واستدعى بشكل ضمني اتفاقية الدفاع المشترك العربية، مع إعلان نية التدخل إذا طلبت حكومة الصومال ذلك.

DeepL

“In his speech, President Sisi warned against “compromising Somalia's sovereignty or territorial integrity” and implicitly invoked the Arab Joint Defense Agreement, declaring his intention to intervene if the Somali government requested it.

google newspaper deepl 2
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 54

➤ It looks like DeepL had trouble with a quote in Egyptian Arabic. But when the quote was on its own, the tool partly understood it. This means taking out tough bits or quotes could make translation easier.

deepl arabic egyptian arabic mixed with msa
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 55

Google Translate

“No one is trying ,” President Sisi warned in his speech against the consequences of “compromising Somalia's sovereignty or territorial integrity,” and implicitly invoked the Arab Joint Defense Agreement, declaring his intention to intervene if the Somali government requests it.

google newspaper arabic 2
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 56

➤ That worked very well! Clear victory for Google Translate here.

RESULT: Google Translate – DeepL (2:1)

If you have newspapers texts in Standard Arabic which do not feature dialects or dialect expressions, you should definitely try DeepL. But watch out if the text incluces colloquial expressions. Overall, I would still favour Google Translate.


An Arabic novel

I use the first page of the novel Frankenstein in Bagdad (فرانكشتاين في بغداد) Ahmed Saadawi (أحمد سعداوي). Note that my copy was published in Egypt which is why the ي may be written without dots.

حدث الانفجار بعد دقيقتين من مغادرة باص الكيا الذي ركبت فيه العجوز إيليشوا أم دانيال التفت الجميع بسرعة داخل الباص وشاهدوا من خلف الزحام، وبعيون فزعة كتلة الدخان المهيبة وهي ترتفع سوداء داكنة الى الأعلى في موقف السيارات قرب ساحة الطيران وسط بغداد. شاهدوا ركض الشباب باتجاه موقع الانفجار وارتطام بعض السيارات برصيف الجزرة الوسطية أو بعضها ببعض وقد استولى الارتباك والرعب على سائقيها، وسمعوا حشد أصوات بشرية متداخلة؛ صراخ غير واضح ولغط ومنبهات سيارات عديدة .

DeepL

The explosion occurred two minutes after the Kia bus in which Daniel's mother, Elisha, had left. Everyone turned quickly inside the bus and watched from behind the crowd, with frightened eyes, as the majestic mass of smoke rose black and dark in the parking lot near Tayaran Square in central Baghdad. They saw young people running toward the site of the explosion, some cars crashing into the pavement of the central island or each other, confusion and terror seizing their drivers, and they heard a crowd of overlapping human voices; indistinct screams, confusion, and the alarms of many cars.

deepl arabic novel
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 57

➤ DeepL sometimes has problems with certain phrases, like at the start of a text or with the phrase “or each other”. This can make the translation seem strange and hard to understand.

Google

The explosion occurred two minutes after the departure of the Kia bus in which the elderly woman, Elishua Umm Daniel, boarded. Everyone quickly turned around inside the bus and watched from behind the crowd, with terrified eyes, the majestic mass of smoke rising dark black to the top in the parking lot near Al-Tayaran Square in central Baghdad. They saw young people running towards the site of the explosion and some cars crashing into the sidewalk of the central island or into each other, their drivers being overcome by confusion and terror, and they heard a crowd of overlapping human voices; Unclear screaming, murmurs, and numerous car alarms.

google arabic novel
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 58

➤ In this case, Google's performance seems slightly more effective. It handles complicated Arabic sentences well.

A professional English translation

Let's see how a professional translator, Jonathan Wright, has rendered this part:

THE EXPLOSION TOOK place two minutes after Elishva, the old woman known as Umm Daniel, or Daniel's mother, boarded the bus. Everyone on the bus turned around to see what had happened. They watched in shock as a ball of smoke rose, dark and black, beyond the crowds, from the car park near Tayaran Square in the center of Baghdad. Young people raced to the scene of the explosion, and cars collided into each other or into the median. The drivers were frightened and confused: they were assaulted by the sound of car horns and of people screaming and shouting.

Novel Frankenstein Baghdad English 2
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 59

RESULT: Google Translate – Deepl (1:0)

Translating literature is not just about the words but also about capturing the author's unique way of writing in another language. Quick translation tools can do the job, but sometimes they might create sentences that don't make sense or stop abruptly. While DeepL can sometimes create more polished sentences, it's a good idea to compare the results from different translation tools and choose the best parts from each.


Egyptian Arabic

Let's take this example which I also took from a book:

سموا كده وخليكوا معايا واحدة واحدة.. خلينا نتفق الأول إن موضوع الجواز والعرسان وتأخر الجواز ده موضوع حساس جدا.

This is a possible translation of the sentence: Say your bismillahs and stick with me step by step. First off, let's just agree that his whole marriage, and suitors, and marrying late business is really sensitive.

DeepL

Name it and let's talk about it one by one. Let's first agree that the topic of passports, brides and grooms, and passport delays is a very sensitive topic.

deepl egyptian arabic
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 60

➤ Certainly, we can probably all agree that this translation isn't very helpful.

Google

Call it that and stay with us one by one.. Let us agree, first of all, that the issue of marriage, newlyweds, and delaying the marriage is a very sensitive issue.

google egyptian arabic
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 61

➤ It seems that Google has seen that it's not about passports. Aside from the first verb, which a translation engine can't guess because it doesn't know the context, the rest of the translation is really good!

RESULT: Google Translate – Deepl (1:0)

Translation software struggles with Arabic dialects because there's not a lot of data to help the software learn. Plus, the way words are written isn't always the same. When I tested some basic sentences in Egyptian Arabic, like how people who aren't native speakers might use them, the software did a pretty decent job. However, if the Egyptian Arabic is very authentic and complex, at least one of the translation tools, DeepL, can't handle it too well.


Transliterated and transcribed words

There are different ways to write Arabic words using the English alphabet. Unlike the formal methods used in academic studies, many people write the way they hear the sounds. Here's a simple example: “Dhahabtu ila al-madrasati” (ذَهَبْتُ إِلَى المَدْرَسَةِ) means “I went to school.”

DeepL

deepl transliterated arabic 1
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 62

➤ The program first thought the text was in Indonesian. But even when I chose “Arabic” instead, it didn't make a difference. The program just showed the original text without translating it.

Google

google arabic transliterated
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 63

➤ It went really smoothly! Plus, Google can change the text we type into Arabic, and that's very useful.

RESULT: Google Translate – DeepL (1:0)

This was a clear win for Google Translate, as it appears that DeepL is not yet able to process transliterated (transcribed) Arabic.


English -> Arabic

Translation tools are usually good at turning English into Arabic. But sometimes sentences may not sound very natural, especially with words like could, should, and would. Big errors are rare though. DeepL does a good job, but it seems like Google Translate might be slightly better at translating from English to Arabic. Let's take a paragraph of a newspaper article:

German industry called for better protection of critical infrastructure on Wednesday after a suspected arson attack by leftist activists on Tesla's gigafactory outside Berlin halted production until further notice.

DeepL

دعت الصناعة الألمانية إلى توفير حماية أفضل للبنية التحتية الحيوية يوم الأربعاء بعد هجوم يشتبه في أنه حريق متعمد من قبل نشطاء يساريين على مصنع تسلا العملاق خارج برلين، مما أدى إلى توقف الإنتاج حتى إشعار آخر.

DeepL English to Arabic
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 64

Google

دعت الصناعة الألمانية إلى حماية أفضل للبنية التحتية الحيوية يوم الأربعاء بعد أن أدى حريق متعمد شنه نشطاء يساريون على مصنع تسلا الضخم خارج برلين إلى توقف الإنتاج حتى إشعار آخر.

Google Translate English to Arabic
DeepL or Google Translate: Which is better at Arabic? 65

Now, I perform a little experiment. I convert the Arabic text into English using DeepL, then I change it back to Arabic using Google Translate. I want to find out if the translations match up.

DeepL's Arabic translation translated by Google Translate:

German industry called for better protection of critical infrastructure on Wednesday after a suspected arson attack by left-wing activists on a giant Tesla factory outside Berlin, halting production until further notice.

Google Translate's Arabic translation translated by DeepL:

German industry called for better protection of critical infrastructure on Wednesday after an arson attack by leftist activists on a massive Tesla factory outside Berlin halted production until further notice.

➤ This means Google Translate and DeepL are good at changing English into Arabic.

RESULT: Google Translate – DeepL (1:1)

Both tools can change English to Arabic in a way that makes sense and is right, even though it might not always sound natural. This is okay because people don't always speak perfectly either.


FINAL RESULT: Google Translate – DeepL (6:2)

I've been trying out DeepL since it started in January. I think it's a good option, just like Google Translate.

Our final verdict seems tougher and more straightforward than it really is. Right now, DeepL has a few issues that Google doesn't have anymore. But those who like DeepL for how well it translates between German and English can hope that it will improve fast and maybe even get better than Google soon. It's also great news for people learning Arabic or who speak Arabic that they now have another good choice for automatic translation.

I would suggest simply pasting the text you want to translate into both tools. If you take the best of both and do some manual editing, you will have a near perfect translation.

IN SHORT

DeepL, the German translation service known for its highly accurate translations using deep learning algorithms, has finally added Arabic to its language offerings. Although Arabic poses challenges due to its complex script and dialect variations, DeepL has managed to launch support for it, albeit with some limitations. For instance, while the service does well with Modern Standard Arabic, it sometimes struggles with long sentences and dialects, necessitating manual sentence restructuring for clarity.

Google Translate, on the other hand, has proved to be slightly more effective, particularly with dialects and transliterated text. It also handles nuanced English phrases well when translating into Arabic. For literature and nuanced text, both services have their shortcomings, and a professional human translation remains preferable for capturing the essence and style of the original writing.

Overall, while DeepL exhibits potential, especially for speakers of Arabic, Google Translate currently offers more versatility and reliable results across various text types. For best results, using both services and manually tweaking the translations may yield the most accurate outcomes.

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