How can I be sure cultural sensitivities are respected in my translation?

Hi, how can I be confident that when you’re translating my document you’re aware of the cultural sensitivities of the country whose language I want it translated into?

So, if I write something in English which comes off as rude or ill received in the Thai, you would make the relevant tweaks to the lexis so the message is still the same but it’s in a culturally aware form?

Hi Elham,

Thank you for such a great question.

As anyone who speaks a foreign language knows, making sure you respect cultural sensitivities when speaking to natives of that language is essential if you are to avoid coming across as rude or even downright offensive.

Luckily, avoiding potential problems is not too difficult so long as one takes the right precautions.

Our approach is to make sure all the translators we use are qualified, experience and most importantly always translate into their mother tongue.

In the example you give, we’d make sure that the translator who translates your English document into Thai is a native Thai speaker

We cannot emphasise enough how important it is to use only mother tongue translators as, by doing this, many of the ‘school boy’ errors which creep in when people try to cut corners and use non-native speakers can be avoided.

There is an extra step however which many people miss but which we take special care to take to be aware of – and that’s to use a translator who actually lives in the target territory (the country where the target language is spoken).

Using someone local ensures that they are aware of any slang words which are evolving or any topical references which could be misconstrued.

Some types of document are much more susceptible to misunderstandings than others.

Technical documents such as computer manuals usually provide less scope for confusion than more abstract works such as poetry or fiction. However, one can never be too cautious and we would counsel against taking chances.

Also, and I know this is slightly off topic, body language can be just as important as spoken language if you are meeting someone in person.

In the Thai culture, for instance, touching someone’s head – even that of a child – is very offensive. This is in marked contrast to the west where a friendly ruffle of a child’s hair is taken as a sign of affection.

If you are travelling to Japan, it’s well worth acquainting yourself with the etiquette surrounding the exchange of business cards.

Always give and receive with two hands. You may also want to include a transliteration of your name in katakana to help your Japanese colleagues pronounce your name correctly.

When visiting China on business there are protocols which dictate who should sit where at dinner based on status so it’s worth making sure you know how the system works. We are always happy to advise.

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