Ever found yourself reading a text that sounds like it might have been written by an algorithm or a creature from another planet?

It appears to be technically sound, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t land. The prose is dull, dry and hardly able to hold your attention for the stretch of a complete sentence. There are odd expressions, strange units of measurement, and weird turns of phrase that leave you scratching your head.

Do people actually speak like that, you wonder?

The answer is yes, just not in your language.

The text you are reading is quite likely one which has been translated but not localised. Which is to say, it has been translated without any regard for the culture, systems or sensibilities of the new context or contexts into which it is moving.

It is probably a very witty and clever piece in its original form, and it may technically now be in your native language, but it quite simply does not speak the way you do.

It doesn’t actually speak your language!

Scandinavian miles and hairy tongues

Let’s take a look at some examples of theoretically accurate sentences in translation which might in fact raise a few eyebrows.

Example one:
“The hotel is 70 Scandinavian miles away from the nearest airport.”

This sentence may be technically correct, but most readers will be disarmed by the unusual concept of a Scandinavian mile. Is that the same as a regular mile? Assuming as much might lead to a nasty surprise at the care hire desk. After all, 70 Scandinavian miles is in fact equivalent to 700 km or 435 miles!

Currencies and place names pose similar problems – they are instantly familiar to some but veritably mystifying to others.

Example two:
“It is important not to have hairs on your tongue when giving feedback.”

Hold on a second, hairs on your what?

Certainly an odd expression!

From the context you can mostly discern what it means, but it feels weird and unfamiliar. It sounds very unpleasant to say the least. Of course, to a Spanish speaker, the expression makes instant sense – it means you need to be up front and direct. Refrain from mincing your words, you might say, but who ever heard anything about having hairs on your tongue?

Speaking the right language pays dividends

Flat or unusual sentences such as the examples above do more than just give your readers a jolt.

They can be confusing, irritating and often alienating, keeping your potential customers at a distance when really you want to be drawing them in.

Often the result can be that your readers disengage, ultimately spending less time on your website than they might otherwise and thus failing to realise the genuine benefit your products or services could bring them.

Squeeze into a new pair of shoes

On the other hand, by squeezing into your customers’ shoes and thinking carefully about who they are, what they know, and how they speak, you can reach them in a way that is warm, human and engaging. This is not always an easy task, especially when moving across linguistic and geographic boundaries, but it is a process which pays dividends and can put you miles ahead of the competition. Scandinavian miles, that is! 😉

Here at COMUNICA, we pride ourselves on our personal approach to translation and language. Our linguists have ample experience within localisation and possess the skills to communicate your message in a way that feels familiar and natural.

So please feel free to get in touch for a commitment-free quote and we’ll have you speaking your customers’ language in no time!