The Power of Language: Why You Can’t Just Translate Communications

18th December 2023

We understand that effective communication goes beyond just translation; it involves cultural nuance, context, and a deep understanding of your target audience.

However, many brands take a blanket approach by simply translating content word-for-word. In this blog post, we delve into why that may fall short and explore the impact of culturally nuanced communications.

Lost in Translation

One of the common misconceptions in multicultural marketing is assuming that translating content word-for-word will suffice.

However, languages are more than just sets of words – they encapsulate cultural nuances, idioms, and historical context.

Some languages have words that simply don’t exist in other languages and can’t be translated word-for-word. For example: 

  • “Serendipity” (English) is an unplanned but beneficial or positive discovery.
  • “Obhimaan” (Bengali) means anger, or something close to it, at being upset with a loved one.
  • “Wabi-Sabi” (Japanese) means to find beauty in imperfections.
  • Toska (Russian) is a sense and feeling of longing with nothing to long for.

And in other languages, words will look and sound the same but have entirely different meanings. For example:

  • In Poland, you’d be welcomed for describing someone’s house as “won” (nice smelling), but in Russia, you might not be so well received as in Russian, it means “stink”.
  • “Barf” is the word used to describe snow in Hindi, Urdu, and Farsi.
  • “Sugar” means a baby (0-12 months old) in Romanian.
  • “Kiss” means something entirely unromantic in Swedish… it means urine!

There are also far more controversial mix-ups that we’ll save you the displeasure of reading, but this shows just how important language is!

Simply trying to translate without considering any of these may lead to misunderstandings or convey unintended messages. 

Building Trust through Authenticity

Authenticity is key in any communications and marketing efforts, but especially in multicultural marketing. Brands must show a willingness to understand and appreciate the audience’s culture. 

To achieve this, you must show that you deeply understand who your audience is. Sub-communities with unique dialects and cultural references should be considered in various communities. By incorporating these, a brand can establish a more personal connection.

To achieve this, we strongly recommend collaborating with experts, such as ourselves, who deeply understand the subtle nuances within your target market.

Beyond Words: Visual Communication and Cultural Sensitivity

While language is a powerful tool, it goes hand-in-hand with visual elements to create multicultural marketing that resonates.

You must ensure that your imagery is authentic fitting in with cultural norms and customs. For example, we’d recommend using imagery of people that reflects who you’re targeting, which may mean moving away from stock imagery, which can be non-inclusive.

We believe that the power of language lies not just in words but in the thoughtful consideration of cultural context.

To truly connect with diverse audiences, it’s essential to go beyond simple translation and embrace all the nuances of multicultural communications.

Are you looking for guidance with translation? Get in touch with our team today by clicking here

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