When carrying out any translation project, knowledge of socio-cultural and historical backgrounds of the target language is essential and must be respected during all stages of the translation process. Many linguists and industry professionals over time have expressed their own points of view on this subject and the debate regarding language’s role in culture continues to this day.
Our translators at HI-COM however, through their experiences, and especially in creative fields, have found that it is virtually impossible to separate language from culture. Languages have developed over centuries through how people live their lives, so it is naïve to think that something familiar for one group of people is going to be interpreted in the same way as another group with no knowledge of it. You only need to take cultural factors into consideration such as art, religion, customs and alphabet structures to realize that translation goes far beyond simply finding equivalent means of communication. Some words and phrases simply cannot be understood if there is no cultural context behind them.
It is universally understood that there is no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to translation. When carrying out localization services, translation companies cannot afford to disregard cultural aspects, even if the differences seem minimal. The translator must always keep in mind their target audience and realize that there may be cultural and linguistic differences within a language. The translator must be aware of the specific location of the original text as the meaning of certain words and phrases can change depending on the geographical location. Spanish is a good example of this. Depending on where you are, a “torta” can be a cake, a type of sandwich or even a slap in the face!
A good translation team when translating catalogue products into English will make sure they understand perfectly their target audience. If they are translating into English, they will know that they may be required to produce three or four different versions of the final product as the needs and expectations of American consumers will differ greatly from those from countries like the UK or Ireland. This does not only apply to the products themselves, but also to the ways in which they are described and the activities they can be used for.
With all this on board, we can see how just the slightest differences in cultural norms among groups can determine whether a translation is a success or leaves people scratching their heads. It is important for translators to be versatile enough to know the differences among behaviours of individuals, linguistic and social traits of a specific group and general universal global trends. This knowledge will be vital when translating documents regarding health procedures for example. What can be routine treatment in one country can be controversial or even illegal in another, so a direct translation in this context without any previous research is highly unadvisable and could cause serious damage to a company’s reputation. It is therefore vital to check the norms and protocols for medical support groups such as those rehabilitating drug addicts and alcohol abusers or those caring for cancer patients as they may differ considerably from country to country.
Most muliti-national companies these days understand the importance of precise international translation practices and are aware of the fact that a simple translation from one language to another just isn’t enough these days. They know that a well translated product description, which takes into account all the various cultural nuances will boost sales and increase customers. With this in mind, it’s essential to remember that small details make big differences. There is no magic button one can press in order to achieve this goal. If you want the best results, be prepared to take deeper dives and leave no stone unturned. At this point, converting the source text into the target language without a deeper understanding of the cultural context will not get good results. This is why localization and not just translation has become common practice in the most successful translation companies’ projects. It is a practice, which despite requiring more time, effort and knowledge, ensures that translations are delivered without causing misunderstandings, offence or embarrassment to their recipients.
Localization ensures that expressions used in advertisement slogans or corporate mottos are not interpreted wrongly by people from other cultures. If an English company wanted to use a slogan such as, “Do you have the bottle?”, which informally means, “Do you have the courage?”, then it would be foolish of the translators to assume that “bottle” could be directly translated as it is into equivalents in various target languages. The translator could then take it a step further by using an informal expression in the target language, which differs linguistically, but is virtually identical in meaning.
Other aspects that need to be taken into consideration are cultural and religious sensitivities. In European countries, youthful rebellious spirit is often seen to be a positive thing, while in many Asian countries, it is sometimes frowned upon to the point of being punishable. Translators must be fully aware of the varying levels of acceptability of certain practices such as the consumption of alcohol and the eating of certain types of meat such as pork. They must understand that some lifestyles considered to be commonplace in western societies are seen as degenerate and immoral in others.
Many businesses looking to penetrate new markets such as China still do not look into localization deep enough and therefore struggle to get the upper hand over their competitors. At HI-COM we have taken on projects from companies whose previous experiences with translation companies did not live up to their expectations, and all too often, this was because those companies had not taken country localization seriously. Luckily for us, we thrive on finding out all the quirky peculiarities of language and culture that make our world truly diverse and fascinating. Translation should never be seen as being a cold mechanical process. Instead, it is an activity that allows us to go on mini adventures discovering how different peoples go about their daily businesses in their own unique ways and to bringing them all closer together honestly and authentically.
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