January 14, 2021

Zero translation – controversy or convenience

Translation has always been an integral part of communication. But the practice of translating all text except for specific names or terminologies (aka zero translation) has caused some to challenge the adoption of certain foreign words in common vocabulary.
In China and Japan, for example, there’s a call to localise English words and brand names such as YouTube, HTML within local language text. Considering the size of the audience and the economic influence, this could be a plausible. But is it practical or even necessary? And is there a long term risk to native languages?

The ever-changing landscape of language 
Language has always been enriched when introduced to new cultures and terminologies. An example of this is the translated word for ‘shirt’, which is present in almost identical format across a range of Latin and Eastern languages – as camisa, chemise, qamis, camicia, kameez – and even more across south East Asia. The term can be traced back to the 4th century and undoubtedly followed the trade routes to eventually become commonly known and used in most languages across the world.
It’s just one example of how language naturally evolves within its cultural landscape and is shaped by the population. People are practical by nature and will tend to adopt the easiest route for communication, even if that means introducing a new word in their vocabulary. 
This is particularly evident in Europe, where English is spoken fluently across most countries and business terms are liberally mixed with the native languages of each country. While to some extent this erodes native languages, it vastly improves communication for colleagues and customers living and working in a multilingual environment.

Should brands translate or not
For brands translating their communications to customers in a global environment, localisation becomes increasingly complex and must be carefully considered with regard to meaning, context, audience, and visual identity.
In particular, when communicating their ‘essence’, brands must consider if elements such as brand names and slogans work best in their original or a localised form. For example, when first launching into China, Mercedes Benz shortened their brand name to ‘Bensi’, without considering the translation of this as the Chinese for ‘rush to die’ - an unfortunate connotation for a car manufacturer. Had the brand launched in China today, the strategy for localising the marque would probably be different given their audience is largely online and far more globalised.

Needs make it necessary
Nevertheless, correct translation and localisation are still essential for customer communications away from media and advertising. The need to exchange accurate information demands deep translation of content such as user guides, contractual documents, educational material and reports. 
In these cases, the translation must include a reference guide to any ‘zero translated’ words to ensure that the audience fully understands the terms of reference.
Communication will continue to evolve, shape and change languages across the world. Zero translation is inevitable. But if managed correctly, it may just benefit information exchange and safeguard the essence of the original message.
At THG Fluently, we’ve been providing language services to businesses for more than 20 years, including transcreation for brands looking to enter and thrive in new markets. In that time, we’ve learned what it takes to give brands the linguistic and localisation support they need to break into new international markets and do it well. So if you’d like to learn more about how we can support your business, feel free to get in touch. 

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