Cultural sensitivity in translation

The ‘dangers’ of translation


It may be sometimes difficult to distinguish between localisation and the translation of cultural concepts since the two may overlap. Generally, localisation includes the adaptation of details such as currencies, date/time formats or addresses/phone numbers according to the location. It is often applied in the marketing of products and services. Cultural adaptation is more commonly associated to the written translation process and it means recognising local sensitivities and thus paying attention to respecting local culture, customs, and common habits.

Localisation errors during the process of translation, or more specifically cultural adaptation errors, refer to words or passages in the original text which are translated in a culturally inappropriate way. When this happens, such content may be construed as offensive. As seasoned translators would know, individual words do not always map word-for-word into another language. Some words do not have an equivalent in another language, while others have multiple meanings. A word that may be harmless in one language might be offensive in another. Translators need to fully understand the context in order to translate faithfully to the original text but sticking to what is culturally appropriate for the target audience.

Localisation may also be requested in the translation of content in different languages, where each language corresponds to a particular country or culture. Here it must be kept in mind that the two may not be one and the same: a country is not necessarily equivalent to one language or culture, while the same language may be used in different countries, hence different cultures. In several countries there is a direct relationship between the language and the country intended as a political entity, however even in these instances, there are often multiple cultures and multiple minority languages. Let us take an example for the sake of clarity: Japan's national language is Japanese and 99% of the population speak the language, but there are 11 officially recognised languages, while other languages are spoken as second or other languages. This means that a translator needs to familiarise him/herself not only with the target language, but also the target audience with their own specific culture and customs. This is also required when a translators or a team of translators are tasked with the translation and localisation of country-specific websites of the same company, or in literary translations where a book is published in different languages and/or countries. From the point of view of the author or script writer, one way to make sure the text can eventually be uniquivocally translated is by keeping international readers in mind from the start. This means that the text needs to be written in a manner that is unambiguous for people in different locales.

Cross-cultural communication can be tricky business. During the process of translation, linguistic limitations can truly become a barrier to proper localisation. In today’s globalised and fast-paced word, a language provider or a translations company may easily overlook cultural sensitivities especially when they need to meet tight deadlines. Clients may sometimes only make money and time considerations when choosing their language services provider. Even translation companies having a team of multicultural linguists may not always take the time or have the necessary understanding of cultural sensitivities not to fall into the traps of cultural nuances. If you have any cultural translation request, contact Euris Consult Limited let us know how you would like us to adapt your text to your audience when translating your material. We will strive to adhere to the best translation practices and quality control procedures so you can lessen the risk of offending your audience.

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