Five Common Issues That Arise During Language Translation

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If you operate on the global stage, language is likely one of your biggest barriers. You need to communicate effectively across borders to convey your brand with the consistency, accuracy, and professionalism necessary to succeed. However, this is not as simple as translating word for word thanks to the many nuances of language. Your content needs to be relatable and relevant to the audience, and proper language translation is key.

With over 7,000 languages throughout the global landscape, it’s clear that localization in business is challenging, yet it is vital that you get it right. Here is a look at five of the most common issues you will face while communicating with customers across the globe.

Figures of Speech

Metaphors, similes, puns, hyperboles, personification, rhetoric, idioms, and all figures of speech are excellent tools to spruce up your writing if the audience is comprised of native English speakers. However, when translated, these phrases can be misinterpreted, taken literally, or even be offensive to the reader. For example, the common English adage of saying “break a leg” to someone as a wish of good luck could easily be misconstrued to meaning that you actually want a person to physically break their leg. Either avoid figures of speech altogether, or make sure your translator is extremely familiar with the culture and can translate the expression appropriately into the new language.

Sarcasm

Sarcasm has become commonplace in American culture. It can make advertisements stand out and evoke laughter on social media. But when translated, there is a very high probability that the sarcasm is not interpreted as such. Considering the entire point of sarcasm is to mock someone or something, it is easy to see how such a misunderstanding can occur. If something can’t be understood literally without being offensive, it should stay out of any translated content. If it absolutely must be used, make sure to highlight the content ahead of time so the translator knows that sarcasm was intentional, and therefore, any misinterpretations can be avoided. Ideally, a local phrase can replace the English sarcasm, so the proper meaning is conveyed.

Two-word Verbs

You may speak and write with two-word (compound) verbs frequently, but these commonplace phrases simply do not make sense when directly translated to another language. You know that there are many times where you combine a verb and a preposition to create a new word—like with switch off, look up, stand up, bring up, etc.—but you should avoid these phrases when writing for a global audience. Instead, think of a one-word option that says the same thing (e.g. ‘carry’ instead of ‘bring up’ or ‘glance’ instead of ‘look up’).

Multiple Meanings

One of the most complicated aspects of the English language is that certain words have multiple meanings. Even children, and sometimes adults, stumble over the usage of homonyms, such as book, suit, loan, and trip. Even though they are spelled the same and pronounced the same, they can have completely different meanings. Without a clear understanding of the context of these words, it can be challenging to know what the intended meaning is. The same is true for heteronyms, or words that are spelled the same, yet pronounced differently, and have different meanings, such as converse, lead, and minute. When these words are used, the translator must understand the context so that copy can be properly re-worded for correct interpretation.

Words Without Equivalents

As if the aforementioned word types aren’t confusing enough, there are still plenty of words that do not have exact matches when translated. The meanings of the words are often too complex and the words just simply don’t exist in the other language. For example, the Japanese word boketto is defined as the act of staring into the distance without any thoughts or expressions; there is no English word with this definition.

As a global company, proper translation is vital to your success. You must be aware of the many nuances of the English language so that your brand is properly represented and understood in all of your markets, no matter the native language. Put in the effort to provide your translators with style guides, glossaries, terminology guides, and notes so that every form of content is translated properly, or else your brand won’t last long overseas.

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