Cultural Sensitivity in Translation

Oftentimes at CMI we come across translations that are obviously executed by novices, dictionary lookups, machine translation or someone’s mother-in-law. On the surface, these options may seem like a way to cut time and cost. But there are thousands of “bloopers” that should give you cause for hesitation when deciding how to localize your content. Mistakes in translation can cost businesses their brand and reputation in a foreign country. Films can lose audiences. Politicians can start wars.

Here are some classics from the marketing world:

The American Dairy Association’s huge success with its campaign, “Got Milk” prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read, “Are you lactating?"

Pepsi’s “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” campaign was translated to “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead” in Chinese. 

Schweppes Tonic Water campaign was translated into “Schweppes Toilet Water” in Italian.  Clairol introduced a curling iron, their “Mist Stick” to the German market, without anyone realizing that “mist” is slang for ‘manure’ in Germany.

As funny as these are, a one-word mistake can damage your content for good.

Localization in the context of culture is not as clear as it might seem. Human beings use language as a means to communicate thoughts, ideas, information and emotions. It is the manifestation of culture. And culture itself is made up of the political, social, spiritual, and artistic attitudes and beliefs of a society. Often idioms and metaphors are used that can’t be literally translated but must be thought through for the “cultural equivalent”. Some call it “transcreation”…at CMI we call it a day’s work.

Our linguists are native language speakers who are fully immersed in both the culture and language of a country. They translate your words with linguistic expertise and cultural context to preserve idiomatic accuracy in more than 150 languages. Whether you require voiceover, subtitling, dubbing or captioning,
CMI always brings the culture into our translation services.

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Join the conversation. Would love to hear other localization “bloopers”!

Please contact us if you have questions or need help with your localization project.