One of the most challenging aspects of translation is a cultural translation, which requires not just being bilingual but understanding the cultural differences between two parties.
What is a cultural translation?
Cultural translation is the practice of translation while respecting and showing cultural differences. This kind of translation resolves issues linked to the culture, such as dialects, food or architecture.
The main issue, that cultural translation must solve, consists in translating a text as showing cultural differences of this text, in respecting the source culture.
The basis for the cultural translation lies in cultural anthropology, a field of anthropology focused on cultural issues among humans.
This discipline questions translation through cultural differences. Translation studies have their foundation not only on language issues but also on cultural contexts between peoples.
An anthropological translator of cultures needs to deal with the issues between the source and the target language, he must respect at the same time the cultural source of point of view and the target culture.
Culturally Appropriate Translation
Cultural details are important because they build the shade of polite attitude, understanding. It happens often that small things like cultural traditions, habits or rules of etiquette may break the understanding between two parties.
A translator’s job is to create a certain atmosphere for understanding and even to smooth out the unevenness of cultural differences.
People attach the same meanings to terms and concepts, don’t they? Moderate vs. intense activity level, for example, may mean different things to different groups.
Do you need help with determining cultural equivalence of terms, phrases, and concepts? Cultural norms, beliefs, values, and expectations are not the same for different populations. Especially regarding health care, law, and family relations.
Equivalence goes after back-translating the items and pilot testing them with members of the target population and then comparing their opinions with the intent of your text.
Conceptual equivalence is an important aspect of creating a culturally appropriate translation.
Do the words and grammar have similar meanings across different cultures and languages? Professional translators train and get certified to translate the meaning of segments, not the words.
Cultural translation procedures establish that the items of the original and new renditions have similar meanings. Native speakers of the target language and regional cultural group compare a translation, along with a native English speaker for translations to and from English. It happens several times before you get your finished translation.
Steps for Translation
Translate all materials from the original English version. In this culturally appropriate translation process, it is a recommendation for writers of material, or translators, to consider changing words to get across conceptual and linguistic equivalence.
Some words may need a change to match words with a similar concept in the second language (e.g., “vigorous” may not be familiar in a source culture, but the term, “very hard” may be easier to understand).
For all items, make sure translations keep the underlying concept. Translation into the second language should occur with at least two independent translators to improve cultural appropriateness and smooth wording.
Ask the translators to make the concepts understandable by people in the target population when you submit your text. There is a charge for this expertise, and it’s worth it, in every case.
In countries where there are multiple dialects of the same language, it may be necessary to have translators who speak the different dialects translate the survey and agree on the best translation.
Bilingual people similar to the target population review the translated material. They have to ensure that the translation will be acceptable to a majority of monolingual people whom you serve.
Involve some practical tips:
For conceptual and cultural equivalence, it is a good tactic to have two different translators translate the new version back into English (back translation). Remember: a back-translation need not reflect the original wording, but the original concepts that are culturally appropriate.
You can request that translators reach a consensus regarding suggestions for alternate translation elements since there are always multiple ways to translate a word or phrase. If you consider pilot testing, you can request review afterward by a professional translator.
For example, if your hospital, clinic or office would like to assess how culturally appropriate a translation is for the target population in that region, you might gather a group of people whom you serve monolingual in the target language and have a bilingual worker verify comprehension of the material you have had translated.
It is a good tip for the translated version to be a pilot testing, using a cognitive interview approach involving participants from the targeted community. Different dialects of the same language used within that community, including the mentioning of low and middle education levels or social class.
Think-aloud or cognitive interviews with structured probes can identify items where responses might be under the influence of racial or cultural experience. The responses participants provide will help researchers identify whether the population is interpreting the survey questions in the same way as the researcher.
For each item:
1. Assess comprehension
- Did you understand all the words?
2. Ask them to explain how they would answer the question
- Talk out loud as you answer the question
- Describe what you were thinking as you answer the question
3. Assess clarity of a question
- What do you think is being asked?
- What does this question mean to you?
- Tell in your own words what you thought the question was asking.
4. Determine whether they need additional help in answering the questions such as definitions, examples.
- What types of examples might help other people understand this question?
5. Ask them to describe how they would have asked this question to a sister or a friend
If you were asking this question to a friend or family member, how would you ask it?
Culturally appropriate translations are something that is not available through language translation apps.
Read about How Important is Culture for Translation?
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