Bonus Material: The UAE’s Race to Translate

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka


One point on the globe where translation is booming is the United Arab Emirates. There, two translation programs, Kalima from Abu Dhabi and Tarjem from Dubai, have made it a race to see who can translate literary works the fastest and while maintaining the highest quality possible.

The first out of the gate (ahem, this is the horse/camel/car racing obsessed UAE we’re talking about) — was Kalima (meaning “word” in Arabic), a project of the Abu Dhabi Authority of Culture and Heritage. The program officially launched 19 months ago and has committed to translating a more than impressive 100 titles per year. So far, Kalima has managed to bring out in excess of 150 books, including recent bestsellers such as The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan, and Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. Earlier this week, the organization announced its latest partnership, with Rome’s Carlo Alfonso Nallino Institute for the Orient to translate works from the Italian.

Dubai’s translation project is dubbed Tarjem (meaning “translation” in Arabic) and is a project of The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation. It was launched shortly after Kalima, and with an even more ambitious goal of “publishing 1,000 bestsellers in three years.” The project has already produced some 620 books in in literature, science, management and education. The Maktoum Foundation is supporting this breakneck production though a variety of projects, not the least of which is a training program for translators that grants them scholarships to pursue a masters degree in the profession at universities in Amman, Algiers and, as of July 19, nearby Sharjah.

Rather than seeing each other as rivals, Dr. Ali bin Tamim, director of Kalima, views his work and that of Tarjem as highly complementary. “We’re very pleased that Kalima, along with friends like The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation’s Tarjem, and other respectful Arabic publishing houses have turned the wheel of translation again among the Arab region,” he said recently, adding, “There is an unlimited number of titles to be translated, which would rule out the likelihood of our bidding on the same titles.”

BROWSE: A list of titles Kalima has targeted for translation.

LEARN: More about Tarjem and its affiliated projects.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.