Cross-cultural consulting in the translation process

Tea C. Dietterich is CEO of 2M Language Services Translations, a firm that provides a range of services including translations, foreign language typesetting and desktop publishing, multilingual publications and cross-cultural training. Here is what she says about the importance and intricacies of cross-cultural and linguistic consulting (Source: Diversification in the Language Industry*):

“It’s not easy to sell translation services, because often there is a lack of understanding about our industry, about what is involved and what knowledge of the target audience, the translation project, the target language, and the source language is necessary in the first place. I discovered that clients often thought a mere conversion was required, so I found myself educating the client first. Many things we – language and cultural experts – take for granted are not clear to our potential clients. Don’t assume anything. I often had to start with the basics about cross-cultural deliberations, linguistic implications and what can happen if you don’t get the right message across.

To make sure your message is sensitive to the country’s culture, have your English source material checked for appropriateness first. Failure to understand cultural differences can bear serious consequences, and whole campaigns have been pulled due to lack of research into cultural awareness. Last minute redesign and reprinting is not only costly but can be very stressful, so make sure that images and text are culturally appropriate first, before the translation process occurs.

Check to make sure the colours you are using are appropriate for the country. For example, blue is a popular colour associated with the sky and nature. But in Iran, blue is the colour of mourning, and in many countries it is a colour associated with authority and discipline. Green is a very positive colour, associated with good health and life in many parts of the world. In China, green is thought to repel evil, and in the Muslim world it is linked to spirituality, religion and God.

It may seem obvious, but ensure your product names do not sound offensive in another language or another culture. You may remember when Mitsubishi had to rename the Pajero for the Spanish and Latin American market, or Ford their Mist car for the German market. Body parts also play different roles in different countries. A film poster with a man sitting on top of a Buddha statue caused problems in Thailand where most people are Buddhist and the head is the most sacred part of your body. Does your target market speak US, UK or Australian English? South American or European Spanish? North African or Gulf Arabic? Also consider whether you might want English for non-English mother-tongue readers. When forming your messaging, be specific and be sure to put yourself in the shoes of your target market. The more you can relate to your audience with language that resonates with them, the more easily you will be able to expand into the new market.

Companies often spend thousands of dollars to have their websites and materials right, but relegate designing and preparing their international business cards to the local copy shop. When expanding into international markets, it is important to make a good first impression. The right business cards are amongst the most powerful means of communication to use. One of the most important considerations for an international business card is the title, as this will define organizational rank. Foreign businesses and organizations want to assign people of the same rank to deal with you. In Japan, the business card is of paramount importance, with the handing out and receiving done in a ritualistic fashion. The names of the person and the company must be transliterated as a guide to pronunciation, and middle initials are often eliminated for simplicity. However, some countries do not adapt English-like spelling in names, for reasons of readability. For example, Czechs expect women’s names to end with –ova. Sharon Stone is known as ‘Sharon Stoneová’ and Nicole Kidman as ‘Nicole Kidmanová’. Be sure to arrange numbers in the country’s format. Europeans are used to phone numbers running together, whereas in Australia we separate the area code and then group four digits together.

These are just some examples of cross-cultural and linguistic consultancy, which today is a high demand service you can sell or use as a foot in the door to sell your ultimate product and passion, which is, after all, translation.”

*Source: Tea C. Dietterich, ‘Cross-cultural consulting’ in Diversification in the Language Industry, 2013, p. 132