Cultural Understanding

Translation of any text involves more than just words. Cultural understanding is as important as words, phrases and context when re-interpreting a text from one language to another. Cultural translation is tied to the study of scientific principles, but involves other complex influences as well. When any company seeks to conduct business in another geographic location, cultural understanding is crucial to a successful localization effort.

What is Cultural Translation?

Cultural translation is based in the science of cultural anthropology, but it also involves grammar, linguistics, epistemology, psychology and social considerations. An effective translator requires a contemporaneous grasp on the politics, economy, arts, humanities and even the various dialects of the geographic target. A detailed understanding of the region’s history is also important, as most idiomatic phrases and colloquialisms have a historical basis. Cultural rendition between Eastern and Western cultures is particularly challenging, unless the translator has had the opportunity to become immersed in both.

Translating Culture as well as Words

Some experts suggest that successful translation between languages requires the work of a traveler as well as a translator. Although the basic understanding of any given culture can be achieved through study, social factors and influences are constantly evolving. Subtle shades of meaning are not learned in the classroom, and the same word can have divergent meanings between languages. To illustrate this concept, consider the English context of the word “milk.” Taken literally, it is the protein-rich liquid with which female mammals feed their young. In the American social context however, it may also refer to the utilization or exploitation of something or someone. Proper nouns and technical expressions can successfully convert based on words alone. Beyond those limitations however, culture must be decoded as well.

Successful Localization through Cultural Understanding

The literal interpretation of words may successfully render precision in the resulting translation, but that will not inherently make the new text easy or pleasant to read. Professional translators understand that a well-translated text may not literally mirror the original copy word for word. An academic assignment may require that approach, but for real-world purposes, effective localization demands the rendering of cultural meanings as well. Consider also the target audience for your translation. Academic-level translations may be more geared toward a highly educated audience, but a typical average consumer may have an education level well below that academic threshold.

Verbatim Solutions employs more than 4,000 certified, professional translators with specialized cultural knowledge. If basic word-for-word translation services won’t meet your needs for localizing your business services, materials or applications, contact them today for translation services that incorporate this crucial level of cultural understanding.