When you hear that little stepmothers are standing next to finger hats and blue rain is climbing up the house wall, leaving behind an elf’s mirror, you might think that you are in a fairy tale. In reality, this is a flourishing actuality in a number of places in Europe: these are the traditional names of some typical garden plants literally translated from the German language – and a great example of what happens if you translate without properly considering context, your target audience or culture.
Never trust a literal translation
The flowers’ names above effectively show how important it is to know and consider which words to use in a specific context. Did you recognise which flowers were being referred to? They are: Pansy, Foxglove, Wisteria and Nemesia.
Isn’t language just great? There are gloves for foxes and a daisy looking with ox-eyes towards the sun. Translate that literally and no one will ever take you seriously again.
Never underestimate the influence of culture
A special kind of context to consider when translating your text is its cultural background. Gardens throughout the world are a striking and colorful example of this.
Gardens are very popular worldwide and the gardening community is getting larger and younger. In Germany, for instance, approximately 36M people have their own or shared garden, and 30% of them being under 40. What would gardeners be without their rakes, spades or lawnmowers? Where could they rest if not on their sun lounger, sipping from a cold drink and contemplating the outcome of their hard day’s work.
We have just finished a large project which focused on garden utensils and outdoor equipment. It was really enjoyable to work on such a summery and sunny topic – but we also had to keep some vital points in mind when translating. As the seller was from the UK, the text, the writer’s point of view and the target audience were British.
Our French, Italian, Spanish and German translators had to adapt the product descriptions and titles to their mother tongue and culture so that the seller could successfully market their products internationally.
Is a lemon tree always a lemon tree?
This adaptation not only entailed the conversion of measurement units but also a more creative way of translating. In order to appeal to future buyers, translations sometimes have to differ from the original text. Since the product descriptions should be persuasive, like a marketing text, the reader should feel at home when reading them. In one paragraph, the image of an idyllic scene was described. The scene featured attractive furniture set in an extensive and lush cottage garden with a wildflower meadow.
The depicted garden scene was perfect for an English audience but did not reflect the expectations of a perfect garden scene for our target nations. For Italy, for example, our translator figuratively planted a lemon tree in the garden as they are so popular there. In Germany, the whole setting was changed and based on a very common German allotment garden scene.
The grass is always greener on the other side
When we translated our project, vegetation in Europe was slowly awakening from its yearly beauty sleep while plants on the other side of the globe were amidst the flowering season.
If this were a European catalogue being adapted for the Australian market, we would have taken reverse seasonality into consideration as well, not only for the translation but for the whole selling process.
You can see that there are a lot of things that mustn’t be avoided or kicked into the long grass when selling internationally. Listing items in different countries requires more than feeding your text and titles into an online translation tool.