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The Psychology of Translation: Understanding Perception and Cultural Contexts

The Psychology of Translation: Understanding Perception and Cultural Contexts

Posted on: May 26, 2024 by admin

Imagine you’re in a packed movie theatre watching a foreign-language film with English subtitles. Everyone around you understands the language being spoken, but you don’t. As you read the translated subtitles, you might notice that the audience reacts differently than you do. They may laugh at a joke that you don’t find funny, or they might stay silent during a scene that you find amusing. This scenario demonstrates why translation is more than just converting words from one language to another; it’s also about conveying unique thoughts, feelings and context. As in the movie theatre, our experience of translated texts can vary significantly based on who we are and how our brains work. In this blog, we’ll unpack the psychology of translation and how this interacts with our perception. 

The Role of Language in Cognitive Processing

From childhood, our first language shapes how we interact with and understand others, particularly where nonverbal cues are insufficient. Through language, we learn how to express our needs, preferences, and fears, and establish connections. It’s unsurprising, then, that language plays such a fundamental role in shaping our perceptions and worldview. What makes an English-speaking Australian laugh out loud may make a French-speaking Canadian shrug in confusion. This variation in response highlights the cultural and contextual influences embedded within language. Humour, emotions, and even basic communication can differ greatly across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Therefore, our native language can massively impact how we interpret information in our brains. 

How Does Cognitive Processing Work For Bilingual Individuals?

Now, you may be wondering: how does this work for people who can speak more than one language? Well, for bilingual or multilingual individuals, cognitive processing involves a complex interplay between multiple languages. Research suggests that bilingual people have unique cognitive abilities compared to monolinguals due to their constant need to manage and switch between languages. One prominent theory, known as the bilingual advantage hypothesis, suggests that bilingualism enhances certain cognitive functions such as problem-solving, multitasking, and selective attention. Interestingly, studies show that bilingual people can experience different emotional responses depending on the language in which a message is conveyed. For example, a bilingual individual might feel more emotionally expressive when conversing in Spanish versus speaking in German due to the cultural nuances embedded within each language. Let’s take a look at this more closely…

Understanding Patterns and Context in Translated Texts

Research in cognitive psychology suggests that our brains are adept at recognising familiar patterns and context. They naturally favour familiar patterns so we can process information more efficiently and effectively. In professional translation services, understanding these patterns is vital for navigating the intricacies of language and meaning. It’s important to remember that how we perceive translated texts is not simply a mechanical, one-to-one rewording but rather an active reconstruction influenced by existing mental frameworks. That’s where certified translators come in! NAATI-accredited translators are not only proficient in linguistics but can engage in empathetic communication and are adept at demystifying cultural nuances. Hiring someone who understands these nuances is essential for ensuring accurate and culturally sensitive translations that deeply resonate with the target audience. Below are a few specific ways that translators make texts more comprehensible. 

Translating Idioms and Cultural References

Idioms, cultural references and even jokes can pose unique challenges in translation. The linguistic constructs that we can easily understand in one language or culture, can be entirely misinterpreted in another, losing their intended meaning and causing confusion. For example, the English idiom “raining cats and dogs” might puzzle someone reading a directly translated text. Instead, a qualified translator might opt for an equivalent expression in the target language that conveys the same idea, such as “raining heavily” or a similar colloquialism. Likewise, jokes about sausages are popular in Germany, as sausages hold cultural significance in the country and are a staple of German cuisine. However, these jokes may not resonate or make sense in cultures where sausages don’t have the same cultural importance or associations. Translators must navigate these challenges by finding equivalent expressions or adapting the text to convey the intended message effectively. A skilled translator knows when to prioritise clarity and cultural relevance for the target audience to reduce mental strain.

Making Technical Language Comprehensible

Translating technical language can also be difficult, particularly in fields like legal translation where the sentences tend to be overly verbose and complicated. Successful technical translation requires highly specialised knowledge of terminology and subject matter, alongside a focus on clarity and precision in communication. Moreover, cultural adaptation may also be necessary to ensure the translated text remains comprehensible and relevant to readers.  Overall, technical translators are responsible for ensuring accessibility and simplifying complex concepts without compromising accuracy. This is particularly critical in legal translation, where conveying precise information is essential to avoiding misinterpretation or ambiguity that could have legal consequences.

Expressing Emotion and Empathy in Translation

As well as being a cognitive task; translation can also be deeply emotional. Translators aim to capture the tone, style and emotional subtleties of an original text by understanding the writer’s intentions. As such, they are tasked with deciphering underlying emotions along with words. A well-translated poem or story can resonate deeply with audiences, eliciting the same emotions as the original text. This emotional resonance is a testament to the translator’s skill in bridging linguistic and cultural divides to create a meaningful connection between the source and target languages.

As you can see, understanding the psychology behind language is crucial for crafting clear and accurate translations. At Speak Your Language, our Australia-wide team of accredited and experienced translators is dedicated to delivering high-quality translation services that capture the nuances of language and culture. With a deep understanding of the psychology behind translation, we ensure that your message is conveyed accurately and effectively to your target audience. Contact us today for translation services that preserve the authenticity and meaning of your content.