We live in a technological world. When we need to translate something, we tend to go to Google Translate, thinking this will do the job just fine.
But the truth is that Google often mistranslates sentences and doesn’t understand important cultural and linguistic nuances.
This is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, cultural sensitivity matters when you translate texts. Here is what you need to know about understanding culture in order to translate texts correctly.
An example of how culture can change the meaning of words
As Europeans travelled West to conquer the New World, they brought their languages along too. That is why people living in the Americas also speak English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
However, these languages are quite different today.
Let us take the example of French, in order to understand better how critical these variations can be, when one translates texts.
You’ll see why understanding French culture when learning French is so important.
France is the centre of the French language. People living in the province of Quebec, in Canada, have been speaking it ever since the French conqueror Jacques Cartier stepped foot on their soil, in 1534.
Almost 500 years later, the use of the language and the accents of people based in Canada are entirely different from their original motherland.
In fact, it can lead to great misunderstandings, when one uses a word that has two completely different meanings.
One example of such is the word “gosse,” which in France means children. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, this same word is used to describe a part of the male genitalia.
If you do not understand that there is an important cultural distinction in both regions, you could either make people laugh out loud, or you could embarrass them.
What is cultural sensitivity, and why is it essential in translation?
Everywhere around the world, societies have their own cultural sensitivities. Although they tend to weaken in an increasingly international world, they still exist and need to be taken in account, whenever someone has to translate into another language.
It involves cultural norms and beliefs, values, as well as customs and behaviours. Without understanding them, trying to convey a message in another language can be difficult, or worse, it can create a deep misunderstanding.
Communicating also has its importance. If you are translating live and are directing the words to a person, you may be required to look them straight in the eyes, while the same could be considered impolite in another culture.
When it is your job to translate, these are elements that you need to be aware of.
The way that you will dress may also be very important, as it might offend some people, in regards to their religious beliefs.
The two main reasons why cultural sensitivity matters in translation is to not create misunderstandings or to not offend anyone.
The use of a single word can be sufficient to change the meaning of a whole sentence, even if it is the right translation. In such cases, the message that is sent out may be seen as offensive when it is not meant to be.
One can always pretend that there was a misinterpretation, but it is quite difficult to reverse the power behind words, once they are said out loud, or worse, written.
It also needs to be mentioned that even though a person can understand that you don’t know the culture of their country, the fact that you do will generate great respect.
In business, such a small gesture can go a long way to create strong trading bonds that will last for a long time.
How can you ensure cultural sensitivity in your translations?
Here are a few ways to help you with your translation services.
Learn continuously from professional translators
The learning process of a translator should never stop. Finding more experienced professionals can help increase the cultural knowledge with regard to the specific countries where you would like to work.
Do your research
That should always be the very first step when starting to work in a new country. There are so many ways to learn about various cultures nowadays, starting online.
Talking with the people is certainly a great way to go, when gaining an understanding of what you can and cannot say in conversations.
Be on the lookout for local dialects
There are countries where dialects play an important part in communication. That is certainly true in Italy, where each region uses a different one.
Even provinces have their own, which sometimes varies from city to city. A translator needs to take that into account.
It is clear that someone who works in translation needs to be aware of cultural sensitivities, if that person wants to convey the meaning of the words in the right way.
That is why it is better to focus on a few countries, in order to be good at your job.