Translation, Localization and Cultural Taboos

(Last Updated On: December 11, 2017)

When needing information or media translation into another language, it is important to remember that not all cultures are alike.

In fact there are whole sections of education (Cultural Anthropology, Linguistics) that are dedicated to the study of the vast differences among people from different cultures and languages.

So what are people to do when they need something translated into another language, considering that there are so many different issues to be aware of?

While if we are talking about a business or a major project, it would be wise to hire some experts in this area, it is not necessary for every international company to have a person on staff with a Ph. D. in Anthropology.

Some companies would be well advised to take this step, however. Thankfully you don’t have to have a Ph. D. to know what is offensive or culturally inconsiderate in another culture, because you can ask someone who is aware of their native culture.

Having a native speaker translate any documents and filter any media is something that many people don’t bother to do. This is a huge mistake.

Translation is not a simple mathematical calculation that any computer can do. Languages are living and dynamic.

Hopefully you can find a professional company whose services go beyond translating into the areas of contextualization, localization and even cultural mediation for you.

There are companies that have these capabilities, but they are, unfortunately, not as common as one would think.

It’s a huge advantage for a company to have a contract with a professional translation company that will go over all their printed and media materials for advertising, marketing and sales. This is done to make sure that the company is not going to commit an error that will offend people or break moral taboos in the local culture. For example, in some cultures, you can never say “no” to someone or it will shame you both. Often people might say something like “I hope so, I am very busy, I will see.” In these cultures this basically means “no.”

Knowing this kind of “insider information”on translation can be the difference between success and brutal failure in building strong relationships in another culture.