in Translation

A translation, no matter how good it is, may still fall flat in a different cultural context. That’s why good marketers know, when adapting messages for an international audience, they have to do more than just translate. They need to perform transcreation, the process of adapting the message, design and overall package to cater to a differently cultured audience. This process is crucial in a setting where cross-cultural communication is involved.

In the movie industry, for example, film titles have often been poorly translated in some languages. In some countries, some titles are not even translated, but are changed into another English-language title altogether. In the Philippines, for example, the film Never Been Kissed was promoted as “Because She’s Ugly,” and in France, the movie The Hangover is given the title “Very Bad Trip.” In other countries, some translations are too literal or don’t make sense at all. In China, for example, the movie G.I. Jane is translated as 魔鬼女大兵 (móguǐnǚdàbīng), which literally means, “Satan Female Soldier,” and the movie Army of Darkness in Japan was released as “Captain Supermarket.”

While a poor title translation may or may not affect the success of a movie, in the world of politics, a mistranslation can be quite unforgiving and lead to long-lasting embarrassment. A recent article published by BBC Culture details an incident in which President Jimmy Carter appeared to express carnal desire for Poland in 1977, but what he meant to say was that he wanted to learn about the Polish people’s “desires for the future.” His interpreter made so many other translation blunders during that trip that he became the punch line to many Polish jokes.

So when preparing for a global product, localization efforts shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, it’s just as important as the work that was put in by your marketing team when they prepared your brand for your home audience. You should weed out linguists like Carter’s interpreter and instead recruit professionals who are passionate about their work and always have their target audience in mind. The goal of every localization team should be to retain the impact of the original message while using transcreation so it will hit home with any audience.

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