All Translation is Local

The saying “all politics is local” is based on the idea that politics is about people, and people want things that mean something to the life they live everyday. To really connect with people you have to be knowledgeable of who they are and what they experience. If you’re going to spend the time and the money to have material translated, follow a similar rule-- all translation is local.

In the “industry” you will hear a lot of companies offer “localization”. Broadly speaking, this term is more detailed than just translation. It is the process where the original information or source content, is modified to reflect and appeal to the consumer’s cultural preferences in their preferred language. This is an important and necessary part of the global translation business.

One can understand that large companies with broad marketing campaigns will have to use a broader message, whereas a small boutique or specialty shop may have a campaign targeted to a smaller, unique consumer. It is the difference between a candidate running for local office or one running for national office. Which are you?

When you’re deciding to have something translated ask the following questions:

  • What is your goal for having the information translated?
  • What outcome would you like?
  • Who is your target audience?

Making “all translations local” is more than knowing what language a particular group speaks, its understanding the meaning conveyed.

In addition to considering the above question, avoid these critical assumptions.

  1. All languages are written. There are over 6,000 languages in the world. Add to that accents, dialects, colloquialisms and you have nearly every type of sound or movement (don’t forget sign language) transformed into one person communicating with another. Just because a group of people speak a language doesn’t mean that language has a written form. Many languages only have standard written forms because a scholar or missionary created them, but none of the locals read or write them. If you are not sure, ask us. And if you don’t ask us we will still offer advice because we are more than language professionals, we are cultural advisors.
  2. Everyone can read. Countries and cultures with public education systems and high levels of literacy tend to assume that using written text is always the best form of communication. As a translation organization TONE benefits from you deciding to use written text, but it may not always be the best way to communicate with your target audience. Additionally the preferred spoken language of a group may be different than the preferred written language of the group or individual. There also may be varying levels of comprehension of the written language across not just education level, but generational level.
  3. The language name, the country name and the ethnic group are all the same. The language spoken in the United States is not “American,” it’s English. (Apologies to those who fiercely believe we should all speak “American”) TONE’s experience working with less commonly known languages spoken by resettled refugee populations has taught us that countries are not the same as languages and languages are not the same as ethnic groups and just when you think you have it figured out, there is more to discover. For example,
    • Somalia is a country where the majority of people speak a language called Somali. However, the country is made up of a number of ethnic groups, including a large number of Somali Bantu. A common language amongst the Somali Bantu is Maay Maay, but not every tribe that make up the Somali Bantu speak or prefer Maay Maay, some use Kizigua.
    • The country the United States recognizes as Burma is also known as Myanmar. The people from the country are not Myanmarese and the language is not Myanmarese. These words do not exist. The common language is Burmese. But the country has over 100 different ethnic groups. One of those ethnic groups, the Karen, are themselves subdivided into two groups each with their own specific languages, S’gaw Karen and Poe Karen.



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