What’s keeping you from communicating your message with others in a language other than your own?

If you own your own business, work for a company, teach at an educational institution or are part of a non-profit organization, have you ever thought about how to reach a broader audience that speaks a language that’s different from the one you use in your day to day work activities?

Here are 3 easy tips for making multilingual and multicultural communication more streamlined, accurate and easy!

TIP 1 – Keep your message simple and straightforward.

If you’re like me, you tend to want to say things in a way that is interesting, catchy or even funny! That’s great when you’re communicating with others in your own, native language but it doesn’t always translate so well! Taglines and advertising messages are great to illustrate what I mean by this. Take Avidia Bank’s tagline – “Honest to goodness”. This is a very North American English phrase and is easily understood by English speakers here in the US. The question is, how do you translate this to convey the same message and feeling in another language? In this case, you would have to create a new tagline from scratch!

When we think of famous ads like Nike’s “Just do it” that came out in 1988 and later became the company’s signature slogan … it’s hard to begin to imagine how to translate this and maintain consistency with the original message and impact these 3 simple words have in English!  

TIP 2 – Do your homework about the language and culture of the people you are trying to reach.

I have a great story about an epic Spanish and Portuguese translation fail that I know of firsthand! A potential client contacted me and asked if I could take a look at the translation for a tagline they wanted to include when pitching to an international airline. The emphasis was on the new, non-stop flights to South American countries, including Brazil and Venezuela. The translations, “Vuelos sin parar” (Spanish) and “Voos sem parar” (Portuguese) literally mean “flights without [lacking] stopping” (literal translation) or “flights that do not stop” in English! Need I say more?

Another great example of a funny and “easy” translation mistake – Starbucks’ “Exit Only” sign in one of their stores translated as “Success Here”! This is what we, in the language world, call a “false cognate”. Exit is “Salida” in Spanish and “Éxito” means success!

TIP 3 – When in doubt, talk to a professional language expert!

It seems perfectly innocent and logical to think that we could turn to our 8th grader’s Spanish teacher to get advice on how to translate a message we want to get out to our customers in Mexico. And most likely the Spanish teacher would be 100% willing to help, for free! A word of caution – just because someone speaks the language and can teach it to middle school students, does not mean that they can translate your project or have the proper understanding of working in non-English speaking markets. Spanish speaking countries share a language however, each region and even countries within those regions have their own way of saying things and doing things. The range of cultural traditions and language variations is bigger than you might think!

So, when doing business with Spanish speakers in Mexico or targeting a product or service for Mexican Americans here in the US, you must take cultural and linguistic variations into consideration!  

Thanks for you taking the time to read this – I hope you enjoyed these tips!

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Best regards, Drita & Team MAPA

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