Pub 12, Arti 2. Cultural Sensitivity In Translation Services

The Impact of Cultural Sensitivity in Translation Services


28th May 2024 | 13 Views

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Cultural sensitivity in translation services is what makes communication effective across languages and cultures. It surpasses word-by-word translations and involves the understanding of the nuances, context, and societal norms of the target audience. In the process, professional translators are always mindful about providing their work with not just precision but as well cultural relevance and respect.


Importance of Cultural Sensitivity


Cultural sensitivity keeps a check on misunderstandings and misinterpretations avoiding potential offense that may come up in literal translations. It is the goal of an expert translator to ensure that the translated content resonates with the targeted audience. This also includes maintaining the intended tone and message while respecting cultural differences. These aspects are particularly important in fields such as medical, legal, marketing and diplomatic communications. The said fields are where the level of seriousness cannot be stressed enough, and any miscommunication may lead to serious consequences.


Examples of Successful Translations


A most notable example of successful culturally sensitive translation is the global marketing strategy of Coca-Cola. In China, this name was initially presented as ‘Ke-kou-ke-la’, which unfortunately translated to ‘bite the wax tadpole’ or ‘female horse stuffed with wax’. Identifying the cultural misstep, it was changed to ‘Kou-kou-ke-le’ meaning ‘happiness in the mouth’. This change did not just correct a misunderstanding but as well uplifted Coca-cola’s brand image.


Another successful example is that of General Motors introducing their Chevy Nova in South America. The automotive company was unaware that ‘no va’ in Spanish means ‘not going’. When they figured out why there were no car sales there, the model was renamed to Caribe for their Spanish markets.




Examples of Failed Translations


On the other hand, there are numerous examples of failed translations for the lack of cultural sensitivity. In one instance, the U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a gift representing the “resetting” of the relationship between the two nations. Instead of saying ‘reset’ as intended, the translation on the gift read ‘overcharge’ in Russian. Naturally it was embarrassing for the American authorities while confronting their Russian counterparts.


Several other examples of failed translations are:

1.     A sign on an Athi River highway reads: “TAKE NOTICE: When this sign is under water, this road is impassable.”

2.     Signboard on a hotel lobby in Bucharest: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.”

3.     In a restaurant in New Zealand: “Open seven days a week, and weekends too.”

4.     A menu in Vienna: “Fried milk, children sandwiches, roast cattle, and boiled sheep.”

5.     Sign at a Mexican disco: “Members and non-members only.”




Did you have a laugh while reading these? Can you add to this list? Share your thoughts in comments section below.


Tips for ensuring Cultural Relevance and Accuracy


Translators may find the following tips useful for ensuring that cultural sensitivity is up to the mark in their works:

1.     Deep Cultural Understanding: Alongside the linguistics, translators are expected to have a thorough understanding of cultures of both the source and target languages. This typically consists of being aware of the cultural values, norms, humor and taboos.

2.     Contextual Knowledge: It is a must for the translators that they consider the context where the text is to be used. This involves comprehending the expectations, preferences and sensitivities of the target audience.

3.     Use of Local Experts: Collaborating with the local experts, more specifically native speakers will provide incredible insights into the cultural nuances for the translators to make their work apt and respectful.

4.     Back Translation: A useful tool for the translators to get appropriate results directly is to translate the text back into the original language. It may further better results if done by a different translator to have a check on accuracy and consistency.

5.     Cultural Adaptation: There are times when a direct translation is not possible or effective enough. In such cases, the translators adapt the content for making it culturally relevant while retaining the original message.

6.     Ongoing Education: With languages and dialects evolving and taking their own course, translators require being up-to-date on cultural trends and changes for improving their cultural sensitivity skills.




Cultural sensitivity in translation services is essential for apt and respectful cross-culture communication. Successful translations take care of cultural context and nuances, whereas failures lead to misinterpretations and offense, albeit unintended. Comprehension and application of cultural sensitivity will keep translators a step ahead in maintaining integrity of the original language as well as in resonating with the target audience.




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