Cultural Sensitivity in Translation: Why It’s a Crucial Part of the Process

What do you need to consider when it comes to translation? Accuracy? Sure. Error-free material that is easy to read? Yep! How about cultural sensitivity? Definitely yes! 

Cultural sensitivity means being aware of who you are translating for and how the reader’s cultural norms may differ from yours – and affect the way they interpret your messaging. Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to cultural sensitivity in translation.

Do: Translate for Your Audience

What you are translating will determine how much it should be tailored to the audience. A highly technical document may not require much adaptation. But a marketing or advertising campaign probably will. A big part of being culturally sensitive is localization: tailoring your language and message to your local audience. An experienced translator will consider language nuances, cultural references and more.

Don’t: Mix Up Expressions and Idioms

Take it easy. No worries. Break the ice. Counting your chickens. We all use expressions and idioms in our daily lives, and often even in our professional lives. These terms may be clear to readers in Canada and the U.S., but not so clear when translated literally.

Do: Consider Societal Norms, Beliefs and Context

Translating with cultural sensitivity in mind accounts for the audience’s values and societal norms. It also looks at what may not translate well, simply because it will be unfamiliar to the audience. For example, material that relies on specific characters or personalities may not go over well for an audience in a different location. A fun example is good luck charms. A four-leaf clover may make sense to your readers in some parts of the globe, while a golden cat will be more appropriate elsewhere.

Don’t: Assume Your Material is Appropriate for Everyone

Be mindful of any content that may read as a stereotype or a derogatory grouping in your material. The way your translator adapts material, like a speech or key messaging, will vary based on the global readership. For example, an offhand remark about alcohol consumption or rebellious teens may not go over as well in some places than others. At best, you may cause a little confusion. At worst, you may offend someone and come across as unprofessional. 

Do: Maintain Humour… but be Careful!

Humour is very much tied to context and cultural references. It can also be taken out of context and no longer be funny – or cause offense. Be careful to consider whether what is funny to you will be funny to your new readership and adapt it when necessary.

Key Takeaways

  • Localization matters. An experienced translator will be aware of language nuance, context, and cultural cues and adjust the material accordingly.
  • Limit your use of expressions and idioms – or make sure they translate well. 
  • Be mindful of material that may inadvertently offend your readership or fall flat. Avoid stereotypes, make sure your jokes are still funny, and consider your visual material!

Looking for a trusted translation partner? Rossion works closely with your team to deliver quality localized content on time and budget. We’d love to hear more about your project. Get in touch.


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