Translation is just the tip of the iceberg

All translation involves some adaptation of the original message. The structures of source and target languages might vary, and not all words and phrases have exact equivalents.  For most technical, business, and general translation, we routinely review the original document for ambiguities, errors, idioms, or jargon.

In some cases, however, we recommend pre-translation cultural consulting.

What is pre-translation cultural consulting?

Cultural consulting is an evaluation of the source materials by a native-language subject matter expert within the context of their culture’s norms and preferences. The reviewers consider word choices, graphics, colors, tone, formatting, and overall themes. The assessment report gives clients guidance as to which concepts and content require adaptation. The assessment will also make suggestions for changes to the source to avoid communicating a confusing or inappropriate message to foreign audiences.

Do you need help translating your marketing content?
Contact us.

When do you need an assessment?

There are two types of materials for which cultural consulting is indicated: marketing campaigns and e-learning or training courses in “soft” subjects like supervisory/management skills.

  • Marketing campaigns

Marketing messages are carefully crafted to appeal to an audience at an emotional level, deploying familiar words and symbols to express the brand personality and excite, intrigue, or comfort the potential customer. However, words and symbols that work well in one culture may not have the desired effect—and may even have a negative effect—in another culture. At the very least, cultural consulting can save you the expense of translating materials that will be ineffective; in other instances, it can prevent you from communicating messages that will actually harm your brand. Some messages simply don’t translate because they’re based on ingrained cultural assumptions. An assessment will reveal if your overriding message is truly universal.

Based on the assessment, a client can decide whether changes are needed in the original content prior to translation. The assessment will target those elements of the brand that don’t work for another culture, and provide suggestions for changes that won’t significantly diverge from the basic brand identity.

In all cases, you want to be sure that any problematic copy is transcreated for the individual target markets and that graphics and other design elements are replaced with local variations where necessary.

  • E-learning/Training

Some training courses require more sensitivity to cultural context than others. “High-context” topics are more likely to bring into play assumptions based on the learner’s culture and environment. A course on management, health care, or business ethics, for example, will require a fuller understanding of cultural context than a course on how to use a particular piece of software or machinery. Authors of high-context courses often use idioms and examples to connect the message with the audience, and these may not translate well.

E-learning should be reviewed by cultural consultants who are knowledgeable about the topic and familiar with the prevalent learning styles of their culture. The review will consider

  • the learning methodologies assumed by the course authors;
  • different customs, laws, and geography that may impact course content (what is the difference between a gift and a bribe?);
  • attitudes towards the specific subject involved in the course (health-related training needs to be especially sensitive to this); and
  • the tone expected (formal vs. informal) by the audience.

A review will examine the course content and design, identify material that raises issues, and make suggestions for changes.

A client rarely has the budget and the desire to closely tailor e-learning course content for each and every language group and culture. The broad purpose of the review is to identify elements that may be deal-breakers in certain cultures, and to develop a relatively culture-neutral source module before translation and localization begins.

If you want your content to be effective in other cultures, don’t skimp on the preparation. Pre-translation cultural consulting is an investment in longer term success.