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  • Writer's pictureRick White - Director of Client Services

How to Avoid Cultural Misunderstandings During the Translation and Localization Process

The beauty of language is that it is all different. There are so many languages, dialects, and methods of communicating around the world, rooted in societal norms and a region’s history, religion, and customs. While this creates a beautifully diverse world, all of these cultural differences can pose a challenge for businesses looking to enter foreign markets.

To effectively communicate across cultural borders, linguists need to take many different elements into consideration during the translation and localization process. Since translation is the literal rendering from one language to another word for word, localization is needed as an additional step to adapt the content to the target language’s culture. That’s why Language Intelligence only employs linguists that are in-country, native speakers - because only a native will know the small intricacies of a certain culture and language.

Despite this, there’s still room for human error. To mitigate this risk and to make life easier for your translation services provider, there are a few things you can do to avoid cultural misunderstandings during the translation and localization process.

Verify the Meaning of Your Brand Name and Slogan in the Target Language

The first step any business should do before entering a global market is to make sure the connotation of their product and/or brand name is appropriate in the target language. That’s because phrases that are idioms that make perfect sense in English are quite literally lost in translation in other countries.

Take KFC’s move into China, for example. The fried chicken restaurant’s slogan in the U.S. is “finger lickin good” but it was not properly localized for the Chinese market and instead was translated to “we’ll eat your finger’s off.” The same goes for global bank HSBC- they had an English slogan in the early 2000s that was “assume nothing.” But they didn’t localize it properly, and the result of the direct translation was “do nothing” - this mistake resulted in global brand damage and required a $10 million investment for global re-branding.

So take it from these companies, it pays to research and double-check the meaning of your brand name and slogan before you enter any new market!

Bypass Local Language Differences

In the world of translation services, a region is the geographic area of land in which people reside and a locale is the combination of a language and the place where it is spoken. Where South America may be the geographic region, locales would be Mexico, Colombia, and Peru as they all speak different dialects of the same language.

Because of the vast differences between locales, it is crucial to use locale-specific language during the translation and localization process. Even though the language may look and sound the same to you, there are plenty of cultural complexities within languages that are jarringly obvious to native speakers if used wrong.

For example, local variants of the Spanish language are very different depending on where you go as locals in Mexico would have a hard time understanding the dialect of Spain or Colombia. The same goes with Mandarin, as it is the language spoken in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, but each region has its own unique dialect.

Be Cautious of Color Use

The symbolism of color varies from country to country, requiring careful consideration when using colors in your content. Here are some examples:

  • Yellow. Most countries in Europe and North America view yellow as a happy color whereas in Germany it is viewed as a color to symbolize jealousy. In France, yellow signifies betrayal and weakness. Eastern and Asian cultures view the color as sacred and imperial, yet in Latin America yellow means death.

  • Red. Western cultures view red as a color of passion and excitement, but in Asian countries, red symbolizes luck and prosperity. Japan associates red with power, and Middle Eastern culture considers red the color of danger and evil.

  • Green. Typically seen as a color to symbolize the environment, in Tibet green is a representation of exorcism and the underworld.

  • Blue. In Eastern cultures, blue is associated with strength, long life, healing, and immortality. However, in Central and South America, blue is used as a symbol of mourning.

Consider the Implications of Imagery

Images can help to express your message, yet there are many cultural implications to be aware of before using them in your content. Just like colors, images can be interpreted in the opposite way you’d like them to be.

For example, in more conservative Muslim countries it is important to show modestly dressed people, or women and men interacting in a workplace, where gender segregation is commonplace. Or, you wouldn’t want to include religious symbols when they are not appropriate or even put pictures of animals next to your product as it can be considered offensive.

Translation and Localization Work Together to Bolster the Bigger Picture

As you can see, translation is not beneficial without localization. When they work together, translation and localization amplify your message and ensure your communications resonate across countries and cultures.

Not sure where to start on your translation services journey? Our team of experienced project managers and linguists are here to help, so get in touch with us today.


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