The Intercultural Approach to Translation

By Slava
Oct 30, 2009 · 3 min

Professional translation agencies and freelance translation services have long ago discovered that the intercultural approach to translation is the most effective way to implement a successful advertisement translation and localization scheme. Granted, human translation that uses the global standardization method has its respective benefits and shortcomings, but many companies have instead opted for the former approach because of its nigh-universal effectiveness. All the same, the intercultural approach to translation is something that needs to be witnessed by demonstration instead of explained by theory. As such, let's examine the different commercials for watches made by Tissot that was localized in four languages: Polish, Arabic, English, and French. The interesting thing about these advertisements was the way the human translation agency hired by the watch company adapted the message in accordance to the restrictions of the target market. The Intercultural Approach Promotes Cultural Diversity Let's concentrate on the Arabic and French versions of the abovementioned ads for simplicity's sake. The copy adaptation is obvious on two levels. On the linguistic level, it showcases rhetorical images: the French ad received a vague and mysterious "blue planet" message, while the Arabic ad featured a more emotionally charged and idiomatic, "Our mother, the Earth". On the ideological level, the two ads differed as well. While the French audience had a fairly straightforward translation of the word "citizen" in their version of the ad, the Arabic ad got a more ambiguous "inhabitant" counterpart in order to neutralize any political connotations. This is significant because "citizen" in Arabic refers to a type of political ideology that's nigh-absent in the Arab world (that is, the democratic and republican system of government).  "We are all citizens of the blue planet" is better translated as "We are inhabitants of our Mother, the Earth" so as not to needlessly irk any nationalistic regimes in the Arabian region. The Intercultural Approach Requires Adaptation To be clear, "intercultural" is just another term for "cross-cultural", and both of these words connote to crossing cultural borders. Being intercultural isn't about forcing your audience to conform to a bland and homogenized way of presenting a given message. It's instead focused on celebrating the differences of multiple localities by having content (advertising, websites, and the like) adapted to their uniqueness. Effective international advertising makes use of professional translation that adapts images, text, and the interaction between the two to a given locale. Translation services can learn a lot from the example set by the Lancome Company when it adapted its French marketing campaign for its Poême perfume to three other different regions: The English-speaking parts of Europe, the Portuguese-speaking parts of Europe and Latin America, and the Arabic-speaking parts of the Middle East. The original commercial's message, as interpreted by Juliette Binoche, contained double meanings and a poetic line that states, "You are the sun that rises to my head." It works well in French, but it's understandable why a straightforward translation will fall flat on its face once it makes the rounds in other international markets. Therefore, a more pragmatic translation that maintained the ambiguousness of the original content plus the subtext of sexual passion when translated in other languages like English ("You are the sea, you cradle the stars") and Portuguese ("Tu es o sol que me escaldante a me cabeça" or "You are the sun that makes my head burst into flame") was required. ---

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