Translation is not your friend

Indian-woman,-one-finger-up,“What does this mean?” asked Ha Na Park as she held up one finger in the air. Park was speaking last Monday at Social Marketing SPARKS 2014. 

  • If the question is what number, it means “one.”
  • If the question is which direction, it means “up.”
  • If the question is which part of the body, it means “finger.”

It all depends on the context. It’s important to keep context in mind when translating English words into another language.

Just translating the words isn’t enough. Translation is not your friend. You need “transcreation,” or translating both the words and their context.

One of Park’s examples was the Orville Redenbacher popcorn package. The company would like to prevent people burning themselves when they open the package after the corn has popped. In English, the word printed on top of the package is “Stop.”

Next to “Stop” is the Spanish word “Parada.” This does not mean “stop” like the red stop sign. Instead it means “stop” like a bus stop. It doesn’t translate as a word of caution.

If you don’t know the context of your audience, Park says, just ask. They will tell you if your words work as intended.

Park is a multicultural strategist for C+C.