The Interplay Between Culture & Translation

By Atlas LS

The acclaimed linguist and philosopher Frantz Fanon once said, “To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.” The importance of language’s association with culture is often disregarded in a business setting. Yet, it is through language that human beings express their perception of the world around them. A perception that is rooted in cultural biases that often cause predictable and avoidable misunderstandings. The best interpreters are able to cultivate an instinctual sensitivity to culture. To aid in the process of creating excellent interpreters, it is important to examine the role culture plays in the most common services offered by translation companies: 1) remote simultaneous interpretation, and 2) conference translation services.

conference translation services - remote simultaneous interpretation

Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI)

The world is shrinking due to mass communication, global travel, and multi-national corporations. Adding the unexpected, like a global pandemic, to the mix exposes the necessity of RSI being a part of a client’s translation toolbox. It provides a client with the ability to project dialogue across the globe, while preserving the integrity and meaning of a spoken language. The added benefit, which cannot be replicated, is the fact that remote services create interpreters that are highly attuned to cultural peculiarities. By having immediate access to the internet, interpreters are better prepared to work in multi-cultural environments. This is a value-added benefit for clients for they are able to run events that are more inclusive and appeal to a wider range of conference goers.

Conference Translation Services

The popularity of conferences for the exchange of ideas and the creation of broader networks paved the way for translation services. However, these events place unique burdens on interpreters. The challenges interpreters face when participating in conferences are multi-faceted. A major issue facing interpreters is the challenge of aligning their technical skills with the cultural attitudes of their client’s audience. There are two ways a client can help interpreters overcome that hurdle. First, a client should avoid hiring an interpreter on short notice. Cultural understanding cannot be rushed or manufactured on the spot. Second, once an interpreter is hired, a client should provide resources that will allow the interpreter to manifest an instinctual understanding of the audience’s cultural attitudes. Interpreters should be given the following conference related materials to mitigate cultural unfamiliarity:

  • agenda
  • topics
  • industry specific websites
  • presentations
  • brochures

The translation industry, as a whole, faces a future of unrivaled opportunity, but pitfalls also exist that threaten to unmoor it. One key force that will cause problems is expansion. Businesses need to grow. This imperative to expand into more diverse markets will add additional opportunities for cultural misunderstandings. Growth will inspire new services and products. It is imperative that thought leaders take into consideration the significance of culture, as these new products and services are brought to market. The world might not end due to a cultural mishap brought about by a mistranslation. However, it undoubtedly will lead to frayed relationships, causing ripples that fracture business partnerships.