How culture impacts translation

Traducción de textos

Learning our native language is something that comes naturally to humans. Starting from an early age, we gradually acquire language by listening to the people around us, such as our parents, families and friends. But this learning process doesn’t just develop our linguistic skills: it also teaches us about the culture and values of the society we live in.

That’s why translation is a complex task and one that involves much more than simply translating words from one language into another. One of the most crucial factors affecting translation is culture.

Why does culture have such an impact on translation? Because every culture has its own way of communicating ideas and concepts. Translators must be able to understand these cultural differences so they can accurately convey the meaning of the original text. For example, a word in one language might have different nuances or meanings in another, depending on the culture and the context in which it is used.

So, how does culture affect the translation process? Read on to find out…

The importance of variants in translation

One key element of the translation process is the variants. Translation must consider the various regional differences, dialects and linguistic variants that may exist within a single language. For example, the Spanish spoken in Spain differs from that which is spoken in Latin America.

There are also significant differences between the French spoken in France and the French spoken in Canada, in terms of both vocabulary and pronunciation.

As for Italian, the dialect spoken in Italy differs from that spoken in Switzerland, where people speak Swiss Italian, a variant that incorporates elements from the Swiss-German dialect.

Canadian English closely resembles British English in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary but there are still significant differences between the two. For example, Canadian English speakers and their British counterparts often use different words to refer to the same objects or situations. And let’s rather not mention US English.

Translators need to be able to adapt a text using the right linguistic variant for the target audience.

Cultural sensitivity

Translators also need to be sensitive to cultural differences to avoid offending their readers or their clients. If a cultural misinterpretation finds its way into a text, it could negatively impact the client’s relationship with its audience. For example, an advertising slogan that is acceptable in one country may cause offence in another.

That’s why translators need to understand the values, beliefs and cultural norms in each country. It’s also vital that they take into account cultural differences in the use of language. A language is not only made up of words but also tone, idioms and expressions.

Cultural context in translation

Another key consideration is the cultural context in which a language is used. One obvious example is the approach to number formatting in different cultures. In some countries, like the United States, the comma is used as the thousand separators and the full stop is used as the decimal separator. In other countries, like France, the approach is reversed.

If a translator fails to consider these cultural differences, they could produce a translation that is, at best, confusing and, at worst, incorrect.

Cultural norms in translation

In addition to linguistic and cultural differences, translation can also be affected by factors such as gender norms, religion and social customs. For example, in some languages, like Spanish, a word may be masculine or feminine, while other languages, like English, do not make this distinction. This can affect the translation of texts that deal with issues of gender or that refer to specific people.

Another example of how religion and social customs can affect translation is the use of religious terms in everyday language, such as God bless you or Inshallah (If God wills it). If a translator is unfamiliar with these expressions, the meaning and the intention of the original text could be lost. 

Ultimately, intercultural translation is a complex process that involves much more than simply translating texts from one language into another. Translators need to consider linguistic differences and cultural perspectives to produce accurate translations that are suitable for the target audience.

At Traducendo, we understand the key role that culture plays in the translation process. That’s why we make sure that all our translators have a deep understanding of cultural differences and have the skills to produce consistent translations that are tailored to each language.

Drawing on our wealth of experience in the translation industry and our team of specialised translators, we have built up a catalogue of glossaries and termbases to ensure terminological consistency throughout our translation projects.

We deliver high-quality, culturally appropriate translations every time. Get in touch here to learn more about our translation services and to find out how we can help your business reach a global audience.

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