Translating Cultures As Well As Languages
Google Translator is an incredible tool for a “quick and dirty” translation, but it completely lacks cultural and linguistic nuance. Automated language translation tools – or even fluent but non-native translators can take a website or document and smear it with proverbial mud.
If your current language service does not have the cultural knowledge to back up their linguistic acumen, your translated works can miss their target market by a landslide (at best) and potentially cause serious offense (at worst).
Translating Cultural Nuances Is an Art Form
Perhaps the best way to explain the difference is to view the act of translation as a science, and the addition of cultural nuances a social art form. While the former may get the message across, the latter relies on the recipient’s culture.
Here is just a small example of how this looks in the real world:
In American English, and in the United States in general, there are two things that set our business culture apart from many others:
- We are very direct; and
- We often respond better to casual or conversational tones, rather than formal ones.
To give a direct command in Japan, however, is typically considered rude. The Japanese prefer to word things delicately, so as not to offend. This also leaves the speaker a bit of an “out” in case they need to save face. To this cause, the word tabun, which can be translated as “maybe”, is often used to soften the blow, so to speak.
Thus, a financial advisor working with an American client might use straightforward terms like “I recommend you re-allocate these funds.” By contrast, a Japanese adviser working with a Japanese client would tend to word things differently from their American counterpart: “Therefore, X-san, we feel that you may want to re-allocate these funds as soon as it is convenient so that you don’t risk the possibility of any serious tax penalties.”
Where an American client might say to that, “well, should I or shouldn’t I, and how soon is not soon enough?” the Japanese client knows to act on their adviser’s recommendation. These variations may seem slight, but in the big picture they are the difference between gaining and losing your global market share.
What’s Being Lost in Your Translations?
In a blog titled, Diversity of the Lusosphere: Brazilian, European, and African Portuguese we wrote, “Languages contain history, the effects of cultural movements, the explosive narrative of political upheaval as well as the geological and biological influences of location.” Are your websites, paperwork, social media messages, and other forms of translated communication being done with the level of cultural sensitivity required for the job? Are they executed with a fluid understanding of the political and important effects that have shaped your niche culture?
Here are some questions to ask:
Does our translation team consist of native speakers? People can live in a country for years and even decades, and still never fully embrace the culture. This isn’t from a lack of intent on their part but, rather, that there is a “linguistic DNA” built into the very fiber of our beings – purely based on where we were born and raised. This lack of a shared foundation is very evident – even tangible – in translated information that requires a native voice.
Do you need complete project management? Did that one, small global marketing campaign yield a more dramatic response than requested? Or, on the opposite of the spectrum, did it fall completely flat despite the results of serious market research? Piecemeal translations will begin to be disjointed and lose the fluidity required to lasso your target international markets properly. Working with a translation firm that offers complete project management is your best bet at ensuring your message remains pure and that your brand is consistently translated in all of your communications.
Is it time to find a translation team that successfully translates cultural assets as well as languages? Contact us here at Chang-Castillo & Associates. We look forward to working with you and your prospective clients.