Translation – The Importance of Culture UA-4944458-2

Translation – The Importance of Culture

Some difficulties can arise when translating. One key factor is cultural sensitivity: Not only do translators have to communicate the message from the source language into the target language, but they also have to take into account the culture of the target language.

In order to avoid misunderstandings, translators have to look out for the lexical content and syntax, as well as ideologies, value systems and ways of life in a given culture – translators need to know their audience in both languages and also consider the variants of the target language, like European French and Canadian French, among other things.

There are a variety of cultural elements to take into consideration when starting a translation. For example, the name of a company or a product may have a damaging impact on its success. When rolling out a global product marketing or branding campaign it is always important to verify the connotation of the product name in a foreign language.

Humor may also be a problem as the target audience may not appreciate or even understand it.

The style of the language and the target audience have to be studied because the grammar, punctuation and vocabulary will be different if the audience are, for instance, college students, or conversely, if a text is targeted at an audience of older business professionals.

Pictures, symbols and colors are important cultural factors too. Indeed, some pictures, images, symbols and colours may have negative connotations in some countries. For example, white is usually associated with mourning in Japan while in the UK, among others, grief would be denoted by the colour black; icons used in computing are sometimes different like the icon for “Mail” that is represented by a mailbox – but all the mailboxes don’t look the same in every country.

Among pictures, for example, even maps can have a cultural or political implication. For example, the depiction of the disputed area of Kashmir between India and Pakistan can sometimes cause a problem with the target audience.

Preferences and prejudices may be a problem since the social context is different depending on the country. Translation and linguistic expression always have to be viewed within the wider societal and cultural environment.

Material culture as expressed by food, for example, is always a true reflection of a national culture. Translating food terminology can be done in a great number of ways; and sometimes the translation may lose some of its true meaning.

Gestures, habits, traditions as well as cultural references have to be known by translators in order to correctly convey a cultural equivalent in the target language.

Culture may thus be a source of difficulties for translators. Beyond their linguistic expertise, they need to have a thorough understanding of the culture of the source language as well as that of the target language. At times, a text with cultural implications may lose some meaning in translation or information may have to be added because it is impossible to communicate all the levels of meaning that a cultural reference may imply.