Typesetting Hebrew and Other Languages in English InDesign

I’m feeling grateful and wanted to share it with the world. As you may know, I’m the author or co-author of several other books, including Judaism For Dummies (with Rabbi Ted Falcon). I like to point out that this is one book where I’m really The Dummy!

Anyway, last year the publisher asked us to work on a second edition. We found the idea rather funny; after all, what has changed in Judaism in the past 12 years? But it turns out that with the help of a terrific editor we were able to make a much cleaner, clearer book. Plus, we were able to add some stuff that had to be cut from the first edition, and add one whole new chapter.

But this blog post isn’t about the book; it’s about the Hebrew in the book! We didn’t include a lot of Hebrew — mostly just blessings in one appendix. But it was crucial that we get it right. With the help of InDesign and a great plug-in, we were able to accomplish the task easily.

Copy and Paste

My co-author sent me various files with Hebrew in them and I tried to place them into my American version of InDesign. No go. The text got messed up, the fonts were a disaster? we could not get it to work. Similarly, copy and paste from a word processor didn’t work. But then someone suggested we copy and paste from a Web browser, and believe it or not, it worked!

So Ted would write in his Hebrew word processor, save it as an HTML file, and send that to me. I opened the HTML file in Safari, copied the text out, and pasted it into an InDesign text frame? where it showed up as pink rectangles:

Hebrew in InDesign 1

Obviously, the wrong font was being applied, so I selected the text, chose Adobe Hebrew (an OpenType font which ships with InDesign, I believe), and set the paragraph to Right Aligned (because Hebrew is read right to left):

Hebrew in InDesign 2

World Ready Paragraph Composer

Unfortunately, I neglected to learn Hebrew in my youth, so it wasn’t until I compared this with a PDF that Ted sent me that I realized it was totally messed up. And then I remembered: Turn on the World Ready Paragraph Composer from the Control panel menu:

world ready composer

That flipped the text around and applied the diacritical marks properly:

hebrew blessing

But remember that Hebrew reads right to left, so what’s that dot (period) doing at the right end of the text? This would have completely flummoxed me, except that I had just read Diane Burns’ excellent InDesign Magazine review of the World Tools Pro plug-in from In-Tools. In it she mentioned that InDesign can do most of the Hebrew (or Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean) typesetting properly, but not everything. To get everything you need, you have to either use the ME or CJK versions of InDesign or use the (much less expensive) World Tools plug-in.

World Tools

Harbs at In-Tools was kind enough to send me a copy of the plug-in to try, and — holy mackerel — it works great!

world tools for indesign

With one click, the punctuation moved to the correct place. World Tools does far more than that, of course, but that’s the main thing I needed. I was happy as a clam. (I mean, um, a kosher clam?)

Of course, once I got one of these paragraphs set up, I saved it as a paragraph style, so it was easy to apply to all the other Hebrew I pasted in.

As I noted earlier, World Tools isn’t just for Hebrew — it works on a wide variety of languages, including vertical Japanese and Chinese text, Korean, and so on. It’s definitely worth checking out.

And, in case you’re wondering, the 2nd edition of JFD will be out in the spring. :)

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24 Comments on “Typesetting Hebrew and Other Languages in English InDesign

  1. Great post David! Really want to try it for Japanese typesetting. I hope it’ll allow me to add Japanese furigana as well…

  2. Hmm, not sure what you’re doing differently! I’ve been using InDesign (not ME) for Hebrew text for YEARS now. Never needed to use a plugin. Granted, in the days before I found out about scripting the world-ready composer, I was using a script to manually reorder the words correctly, but nowadays it just goes by itself.

    Maybe your CHARACTER direction is RTL, while your PARAGRAPH direction is not? (You usually want the opposite, otherwise you get lovely Hebrew text but all of your numbers are backwards.)

    Although you cannot manage the paragraph/character direction directly (needs a script), you CAN see those properties in the paragraph style.

    I could probably write an article on this myself, with all the angst I’ve endured….

  3. The script I use nowadays to create my paragraph style properly – credits in the script:


    /*
    Right-to-left, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi ... in InDesign CS4 (none-ME)
    Version: 1.1

    Script by Thomas Silkjær
    http://indesigning.net/
    */

    var my_document = app.documents.item(0).paragraphStyles.add({
    name:"Hebrew",
    //characterDirection:CharacterDirectionOptions.RIGHT_TO_LEFT_DIRECTION,
    composer:"Adobe World-Ready Paragraph Composer",
    paragraphDirection:ParagraphDirectionOptions.RIGHT_TO_LEFT_DIRECTION,

    justification:Justification.RIGHT_ALIGN,
    appliedFont:"New Peninim MT"
    });

  4. Applying the World-Ready composer will give Arabic and Hebrew text character direction, but not paragraph direction. So you need some way to introduce it, whether via script, plugin, or even copying or appending a paragraph style that already has that attribute. The standard version of InDesign has the features under the hood, but simply doesn’t expose the UI for paragraph, story, table or document direction.

    @Bart: the World Tools plugin does expose the controls for ruby, which would likely fit your needs. More detail in my InDesign Magazine review David mentions.

    And for all interested in this topic, look for my upcoming title on Lynda.com: Multilingual Publishing Strategies with InDesign.

    Around the world with InDesign…whee!

  5. Thanks for great article

    We do lots of bi-lingual work but in Roman fonts for European languages.

    Have recently had some English/Chinese bi-lingaul jobs for a University. We expected a real steep learing curve to get the fonts and importing ed text to work. Couldn’t believe how easy it all was … just by importing from a Word docs into InDesign CS4 (English version) it all ran in correctly first time using the standard pre-loaded Mac fonts.

    Don’t let people make out that multi-language is difficult!

    For multi-lingual text setting fans out there
    … just check out Plantin’s 6-lingual hand typesetting (including Hebrew) done 440 years ago
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heritage_day_2011_gnangarra-68.jpg

    .. and how about this for 3 languges from 2200 years ago

  6. One other tip: if you just need RTL paragraph direction, but not story, table or document direction, you can use Placeholder text. Hold down Command/Ctrl and choose “Fill with Placeholder Text.” Choose Arabic or Hebrew and place the text. That text has RTL paragraph direction. Make a paragraph style out of it, and modify for the RTL text in your document.

    This does *not* work for Japanese or Chinese. The placeholder text for these languages does bring in the Adobe Japanese Paragraph composer, but no setting for kinsoku (proper line breaks) or mojikumi (spacing).

    @Huw: if you are just using the English version of InDesign, you can see Chinese or Japanese characters, but the spacing is not correct. Sure, it can be read, but it is poorly typeset, and must be carefully checked for proper line breaks. You might get by with it for Chinese, but for Japanese, it’s really not acceptable. You need to introduce the Japanese composer (used for Chinese, too), kinsoku and mojikumi via plugin or template.

    You can get free templates that incorporate these features on our web site: http://www.transpacdigital.com/downloads.

  7. I designed a book with several appendices in Hebrew. I did use a script to reverse the letter direction properly. However, the parentheses (and there were many of them) were not correctly maintained, so I had to go through the entire text and switch the parentheses.

    I wonder if that plugin will solve that problem as well.

  8. Is the ‘World Ready Composer’ option available straight out of the box in CS6? I remember its been hanging around since CS4, but I seem to remember you needed to make it appear with a plugin or scripting?

  9. I am creating several documents that need to be in both English and Persian. The Persian script does not appear joined up in InDesign. This is my first time working in a non-European langauge and would appreciate some help.

  10. Hey, thanks for the tutorial. VERY useful.
    I do encounter a small but tedious problem.
    what I have in Indesign, without markup, is
    “brand®”. And whith markup “®brand”. Everything
    is fine, except for the location of the
    symbol. Is there a way to fix this?

      • Of course! thats right. Thanks David. You’re a life safer.
        Also thanks for the link. But your or Michael have already thought me one with the lynda tutorial. I now use find: (.+)(~r) change: $2$1 Cool cool cool!

  11. What about numerals/digits that are logically/visually ordered correctly in InDesign but export badly? That’s been giving me no end of headaches.

    The Hebrew is ordered correctly and so are the numerals but any produced text is messed up in varying levels of ABUF.

      • Actually, my apologies, this query probably shouldn’t exist here.

        I have a book in Hebrew in a ME enabled InDesign, the client has decided they want it exported to MSWord to do corrections (they also agreed on a price).

        Although the logical and visual ordering of numerals is correct in INDD, it does not export correctly to MSWord. I am doing file>export>RTF.

  12. I’m feeling very grateful too!!! After sending out page to an author, who responded that the Hebrew was all backwards, I found this blog, and it was a lifesaver!!! Learn something new every day. Thank so much for sharing this valuable tip.

  13. Another happy reader, I was about to buy the Middle East/North Africa edition of InDesign. Many thanks for posting!

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