Globalisation, one of the most impactful game changers of the 21st century, has, and will continue to exert influence on the lives of every individual, organisations and institutions. As people shuffle across borders, cultural and trade exchanges bloom – the global market is set to thrive at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 16.4 percent till year 2028. And even with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic putting paid to many travel plans, the global aviation industry is projected to grow at a CAGR of 12.7 percent. Opportunities are knocking at the doors of business owners; companies that attempt to expand internationally are a dime a dozen. Nevertheless, the million-dollar question is whether these organisations are doing it right.
Take for example the Chinese market. Entering this market is a daunting task, with China-centric trade policies to abide by, Chinese business partners to communicate with, and Chinese consumers to please. However, that has not stopped businesses from trying to reach out to Chinese consumers. A study conducted by HSBC suggested that 87 percent of the international companies surveyed anticipated an increase in their sales or exports to China in the next 12 months. International companies attempting to enter this huge market often tap on translation as the power tool to communicate with different stakeholders. Here comes the tricky part: while one might think translating content is a piece of cake, the truth is, bridging the language gap to serve customers of different regions is challenging and demanding. We look at several aspects of translation, focusing on the behind-the-scenes stories of English to Chinese (vice versa) translation and the nuances that make good translations critical in business planning.
1. The importance of grammar
For a start, we take a look at grammar, which many neglect and even fail to see its importance. Chinese grammar is not as straightforward as English grammar. They are typically embedded within the sentence structure, instead of existing as standalone words. One scenario would be the lack of time-specific grammar terms in Chinese, which makes word arrangement in Chinese sentences crucial as it determines if the sense of time is communicated accurately. For example, in the sentence “Our perfume scent can last for five hours”, the term ‘for’ conveys the message of time. However, there is no equivalent term in the Chinese grammar bank. Thus, the words in the translated sentence ‘我们香水的味道能持续五小时’ are arranged in such a way that the idea of ‘five hours’ is perfectly encapsulated, and any shift in the current sentence structure will result in inaccuracy of meaning. To effectively carry the meaning from English to Chinese or vice versa, translators must have excellent command of the languages to identify grammar gaps and adjust till it all fits.
2. Culture matters
Culture is another critical aspect to take note of in the translation process. Translation errors and failures are not uncommon because culture is hard to grasp for non-natives. A lack of solid understanding of the culture and background of the region- or group-of-interest might produce offensive or inaccurate translations, causing confusion and unhappiness among target audiences. For instance, in the Chinese version of the 2012 National Day documentary That Day I Said The Pledge, multiple translation errors were spotted, including the wrong translation of ‘HDB flat’ (Singapore’s public housing) to ‘国宅’ instead of ‘组屋’. Though both terms represent public housing, their target audiences are different. ‘国宅’ is more commonly used in Taiwan, while ‘组屋’ is the most appropriate and standard term used in Singapore. Thus, the Singaporean viewers who watched the celebration video were puzzled, as the term quoted was unfamiliar to them. Translators must take into account the unique words shaped by the distinctive sociocultural backdrop of the target audiences for their translations to serve their purposes. This requires translators to be equipped with a comprehensive set of knowledge about the target region or group.
3. It’s all in the context
The next factor is context. Under different settings, words, idioms, quotes, and phrases can express different meanings. Top-notch translators scrutinise every detail in the original text and make necessary changes to stay as true to the intent of the original piece as possible. Translations that simply convert and match a word in the source language to the target language can be misleading and erroneous, especially so when there is no word of equivalent meaning, or when the original idea is not directly stated, or even have multiple meanings. For example, in 2016, Singapore’s Queenstown residential committee put up a notice to invite residents to a Christmas celebration party, with the translated text ‘圣诞节庆祝党’. While on surface-level, every word seems to match the original text, but in fact, the word ‘党’ refers to party in the political sense, causing readers to be dumbfounded. Another example is Singapore Health Promotion Board’s ‘Launch of the Falls Awareness Campaign’, which was translated into ‘推广跌倒意识运动’. Like the previous example, this translation has a word-for-word match in meaning, but when the words are strung together, the phrase which meant ‘promoting fall awareness’ became ‘encouraging people to fall’. This is due to an indirect communication of the message in the original text. Thus, translators are often faced with the glaring question: to what extent can the original text be modified to stay true to the intent, yet preserving the structure?
4. Making sense for your audience
The fourth factor is the target audience. Other than sociocultural factors, translators also need to be attuned to the educational background of the audiences. Depending on the text types, translators are responsible for picking the most suitable word to facilitate content understanding by the audiences. For example, press releases, news articles, and advertisements should be easy to comprehend, with words and phrases that are more basic and widely used. On the other hand, thought leadership articles or commentaries that are targeted at a niche segment can afford to be fancier, with expressions that are beautiful or more complex. For example, when translating the sentence ‘Architecture is everywhere’ for an advertisement, it would be more reader-friendly to phrase it as ‘建筑随处可见’. For thought leadership articles however, a more professional and sophisticated image can be portrayed if the phrase ‘触目皆是建筑’ is used, although both convey the same meaning. Selecting the right word that balances the needs of the target audience and aims of the original text is a skill that translators must master.
With these four factors in mind, businesses that are translating content to serve different customers, or are considering utilising this power tool, know that quality translation propels their business forward. Select your translator well, or the agency that you outsource the translation tasks to carefully. Your business cannot afford a half-hearted piece of translated work, and neither can your customers. comes trust, and with trust, comes the best creative juices. This strong conviction guides him as he leads a team of young individuals in video production, creating fresh and engaging content for clients from diverse fields.
Because it’s the thought that counts – Socium Thoughts bring together our thoughts and opinions on all things communication.
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