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Preserving Culture Through Translation: Challenges and Solutions

Preserving Culture Through Translation: Challenges and Solutions

Posted on: February 13, 2024 by admin

‘Culture’ is a complex term that can mean a variety of things for different people. In short, it refers to the shared ideas, customs, values and social behaviours of a group. In the context of language, high-quality translations that take culture into account are crucial for ensuring individuals feel valued and recognised. These considerations can help strengthen an individual’s sense of belonging and increase their understanding tenfold. In this blog, we’ll discuss how to implement culturally sensitive strategies when translating texts, concerning common challenges and solutions. Let’s get started!

Linguistic Nuances in Translating 

Did you know that the Japanese language uses a complex system of honorifics, crucial to addressing someone based on their social status? Likewise, Arabic is rich in metaphors and relies heavily on context. Perhaps you’re not surprised to learn that similar to the people who speak it, German is a language known for precision and specificity. There are many other examples of cultural nuances that exist in languages from across the globe — it’s one of the main reasons we can’t rely on Google Translate! Languages often contain expressions, idioms and cultural references that defy direct translation. When translated literally, meaning can be lost entirely.


As you can imagine, this can create some issues in translation. One way to avoid these issues, however, is by conducting thorough cultural research. Professional translators, such as the team at Speak Your Language, are highly trained with field experience to pick up on context cues. Their understanding of not just the language, but the cultural background of the languages they’re translating, allows them to provide valuable insights for accurate translation.   

Adaptation vs. Literal Translation

Have you ever told a joke that didn’t land with the people you told it to? Have you ever tried to explain a metaphor to a child who can’t quite grasp the hidden meaning? Similar to the nuances mentioned above, knowing your audience when translating texts is integral. A joke that is humorous in one culture may fall completely flat or even offend in another. If they come across a situation like this, translators have the added responsibility to adapt their approach with care. 


Striking a balance between the accuracy of the original text and adaptation to the target culture is something all translators must consider. Rather than removing a section of the text altogether, high-quality translations modify the original text just enough to avoid misinterpretation. For example, an equivalent that resonates with the target audience may be sourced when translating a metaphor.


Cultural Sensitivity and Values 

The relationship between culture and language is complicated. What is clear, however, is that the two are intrinsically linked to one another. To convey the values of any culture, language must be used. Likewise, when speaking or writing in a language, culture inevitably influences what is being said. Simply think of how culture varies between an individual speaking in Australian English and United States English. While both groups speak the same language and can understand one another relatively well, there are still distinct cultural values that separate the two languages somewhat. These can inadvertently lead to offence or misunderstanding.


Translators face significant challenges when it comes to religious or political references in particular. Cultural sensitivity is crucial in handling these elements to ensure accurate and respectful translations are made. One effective approach is to collaborate closely with cultural consultants who have a deeper familiarity with the target group.

Adjusting Tone and Style in Translations

Tone and styles can vary across languages as well. Grammatical gender, for example, exists in languages such as German but does not exist in Turkish or Korean. Likewise, in French, great emphasis is put on formality. It could be seen as vulgar or disrespectful to refer to acquaintances in the same way you would family and friends. However, in Spanish, informality is a lot more common, and the use of more formal language may be viewed as pretentious.


Again, a certain level of nuance is required by translators to adjust tone and style effectively. A business document may require a formal tone, while others may benefit from a more engaging and persuasive tone. Translators should be versatile in their approach, ensuring that the translated text suits the specific context and audience, while maintaining cultural authenticity. 

Use of Translation Technology and Tools

Advancements in technology have undoubtedly impacted the field of translation over the past decade, providing translators with powerful tools to aid in their work. However, this does not come without its shortcomings. While machine translation tools and technology are efficient, they are limited when picking up on crucial cultural subtleties. 


When using these tools, it is essential to do so with caution, and always with the guidance of human expertise. One great example is the use of translation memory tools that can be used by translators to store and reuse previously translated segments. This ensures consistency and efficiency across projects while maintaining human involvement. Overall, it’s important to recognise translation technology as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, human translators. As we’ve covered in the points above, human interpretation is vital for making accurate and culturally sensitive translations.

Preserving culture in translations is complex, and requires translators to navigate many contextual challenges. However, strategies such as research, adaptation, collaboration and technology can all be utilised to maintain cultural authenticity and convey meaning. For professional, quality translators who understand these strategies well, you can rely on companies like Speak Your Language. Contact us today for translation services that are culturally aware, accurate and comprehensible.