Translation errors could be costly because they don’t simply stop at identifying the target language. Translation and culture are very much connected, especially in business translation. A simple phrase that can appear easy to translate can become difficult because it may contain cultural subtleties.
For example, the State Department hired a Russian interpreter when President Carter traveled to Poland in 1977. The interpreter knew Polish but was not used to interpreting professionally in that language. Through the interpreter, Carter reportedly said in Polish “when I abandoned the United States” instead of “when I left the United States” and “your lusts for the future” instead of “your desires for the future”.
Several linguistics experts agree that cultural differences could prove to be a more complicated challenge for translators than innate differences in language structure.
Culture Is Powerful
Culture is powerful and important and this is the reason why international communication should take into consideration existing cultural incompatibilities. Therefore, translators must keep cultural practices in mind when they translate even a slogan of a few words. Translation mistakes can cause a great deal of damage to a company or person’s credibility. Though there are those who do not entirely agree, language is and should be considered an integral part of a culture. We must understand translation from a cultural context.
Mistakes in translation create bad associations with a product. There are times when one wrong word is used, which often happens when specialized terms are involved and the only translation help that was sought was a general dictionary. It becomes more complicated when the language concerned has several regional variations and dialects.
Idioms Can Be Tricky
They are the essence of any language and the most problematic part to handle. Not all idioms have direct equivalents in another language, because they are linguistic expressions which are typical for a language and specific to a single culture. It is impossible to define any unique approach in the translating process since so many idioms are culturally specific. Therefore, the pragmatic meaning must be much more prized than the literal meaning. If translated literally or word for word, idioms lead to extreme confusion.
Literal Translations Are Not Enough
A literal translation is almost always not enough, and in certain cases inappropriate. Literal translations also fail in conveying the emotions and feelings that the original message manages to do so effectively. Big, multi-national companies that have years of experience with cross-cultural transactions and advertising have learned through the years how to translate to the target language. When translating to the target language, the message is conveyed with the same impact and effectiveness as the original language.
Intimately intertwined are language and culture. Translation is not about the words, it’s about the meaning behind them.
-Lizzette Michel, Translation Manager