Reaching past cultural boundaries and language barriers in today’s global marketplace poses a major challenge for business owners. Translation is frequently not enough. Localization, adapting site content to local audiences, is also needed. In a way, translation is an integral part of localization, which requires applying local currency, measurements, formats, and adapting imagery that resonates with local audiences in a natural way.
To fully understand the immense challenges, it’s essential to know how many languages are in the world. To date, there are more than 7,000, and in Papua New Guinea alone, there are over 800 languages spoken.
In China, which has almost 1.2 billion native Chinese speakers, there are nearly 200 unique dialects. Considering the number of languages as well as the number of dialects within those languages, you can begin to comprehend the enormity of translation and localization challenges for website translation. Here are just a few of them:
1. Using Figures of Speech
Although using figures of speech can “excite” site content that’s being translated, or maybe explain an idea in a more colorful way, figures of speech are problematic. Being creative and being accurate are not the same thing. If a translator utilizes similes, personification, metaphors, hyperbole, puns, or other variations of figures of speech, but doesn’t have command of cultural norms or native language, your message may hit a wrong note or, worse, be offensive.
2. Using Sarcasm and/or Irony
Sarcasm’s sharp and biting style poses another challenge as meaning can get lost if literally translated into the other language. Considering the idea behind sarcasm (using irony and other devices to mock), there is a high risk of offending your target market. If it is necessary to use sarcasm and/or irony for some reason, the publisher can highlight relevant passages for necessary attention from the translator. That way, the translator can be aware of the implied message and style during website and app localization work, which will help avoid literal misinterpretations by site visitors.
3. Using Compound Verbs
Compound verbs also cause confusion when translating. Sometimes prepositions and verbs take on new meanings if used together. American-English speakers frequently use compound verbs like “look up” or “stand up” which have literal and idiomatic meanings. American-English compound verbs are challenging to translate because their meanings may be unknown or not have an equivalent in other languages. It’s important to provide context for your translator to clarify the meaning of the passage so that they can get the translation right the first time.
4. Trouble With Multiple Meanings
Multiple meanings are often confusing for non-native English speakers. The use of homonyms can mislead any translator. Homonyms are words spelled the same and sound the same but with different meanings. Examples of homonyms include stalk (stalk of corn, stalk a person), skate (skate on ice, skate the fish), and left (the direction, past participle of leaves). In addition, heteronyms, words with identical spelling but different pronunciation and meaning, are also challenging for translators. Examples include “suit,” “loan,” “trip” and “book.”
5. Words That Have No Equivalents
Many words do not have equivalents in other languages. Frequently, these words may have complex meanings that cannot be explained or applied in another language during translation. Therefore, it’s imperative for your company to understand these small nuances so you can fully comprehend how your brand will be interpreted by target markets in other locales. You can help your translators by giving them brand-content glossaries and style guides, so they will be able to translate the best voice for your audience and at the same time be true to your business and brand message.
It’s important for your business to embrace these nuances of language so that you are aware of how your brand will be seen and understood by audiences in different markets. If your brand has a particular voice and tone that you would like to preserve in your other markets, make sure to work with translators who can understand how to localize the subtleties of your brand. You can help your linguists by providing them with style guides and glossaries of your brand content so that they can translate the most appropriate voice for your target markets while still being true to your brand.