What are the first ideas that spring to your mind when you hear the word “translation” or “communication“? Is it speaking, writing, language…or maybe meetings, international relations, PR? None of these would be wrong. In communication, there are many aspects we need to pay attention to in order to communicate properly, such as verbal and non-verbal. The same way, to be able to fully convey the desired meaning in translation we must pay attention to different aspects, such as culture and cultural differences in translation.
Cultural Differences in Translation
The words the person utters fall in the background of their demeanor. Therefore, words themselves do not necessarily convey proper meaning. When translating a text into a new language (specifically, that which belongs to a different culture), culture and cultural differences in translation play an enormous role. Make sure you (as a translator) are acquainted with the cultural norms of the target language. Language skills are high up on the ladder of prerequisites for translating, but you have to take into account the big picture for a good translation. You might not need to know these up front, but if you don’t, do some research. You were not born ready, but you can become ready. Communication with others in this field is crucial. Consult books, friends, the Internet…use all your available resources to learn as much as you can in order to deliver a high-quality translation.
Why is this issue so important? Take a look at some examples of international marketing where the lack of cross-cultural communication and translation has yielded very upsetting messages. One of the slogans of a soda brand read “Come alive with the Brand X Generation” which was translated as ” Brand X brings your ancestors back from the dead” in Chinese. Maybe the brand would have caught on if the choice of words hadn’t been such a poor one. Namely, ancestors are very important in China and Chinese culture, which makes this translation rude and offensive. Another example may be given for Japanese: if you transform your appeals into demands, this will be regarded as offensive.
Knowledge of the target language and culture
This kind of miscommunication occurs due to insufficient knowledge of the target language and culture which is exactly where professional translators come in. A true professional will leave nothing to choice, and will not only consult the dictionary, but will engage themselves into learning new cultures and language nuances for finding proper words in order to convey the true meaning. This is something machines cannot do. The future successes and failures of companies and businesses rely on good, and foremost, professional translators.
These were just some extremes which are plausible to occur if attention is not paid to cross-cultural differences. More often one might encounter variations in dialects or regional variances of the source and target language; are Portuguese in Portugal and in Brazil the same? Or Spanish in Venezuela to that in Spain or Chile? Or let’s bring it down to an even simpler level: English in Great Britain and in the USA. The translator has to focus on a couple of things here: slight spelling and/or meaning differences in the source and target language (e.g. Honor / Honour, Trousers / Pants…), who will read the translation: The Portuguese or the Brazilians?
As mentioned before, if the translator fails to take into account these linguistic differences, their work may suggest disrespect to the target language and culture. If you show cultural awareness and understand cultural differences in translation as an author and translator, the readers will know how to appreciate this. You will gain respect of the audience and your products, brands, companies will have more success since the target audience will feel that your work is dedicated to their needs.
To conclude, regardless of whether you are a high state official in a diplomatic visit to another country, or translating a pamphlet or brochure into a target language, you should always rely on professional translators who will take their job seriously and perform some research on the target language and culture, if necessary. Nothing can be taken for granted, nor presupposed. If you as a contractor are not sure, discuss these issues with your translator. This will give you a general idea who you are dealing with and what you might expect to come across in the future (business-wise or on a personal level).