Cultural Differences and Translating

Some of the most difficult aspects of translating aren’t the actual translations, but the fact that there are so many details to remember when translating a document from one language to another.

Cultural differences are the most challenging aspects of translation work. A translation that is cohesive will stand on its own well enough, but there are many cultural aspects to keep in mind when performing any kind of translation work.

Translating European Languages

In Europe, many countries may be close to each other geographically, but they still have distinct cultures and languages. For instance, the Netherlands is very different from Germany, even though the two countries share a border. The Dutch believe the Germans to be very strict. Even though a translator might not notice these differences, it is important to know they exist. For example, if a certain type of advertisement is to be used in both the Netherlands and in Germany, it is tempting to simply translate it word-for-word into Dutch. In doing so, humor and cultural subtleties might be lost.

Differences like this might seem trivial, but they can have a huge impact on sales. When an advertisement is blatantly copied from Dutch into German, so much can literally be lost in translation.

Formal Speech

Another thing to keep in mind when translating German is that formal speech is very important in Germany. In the Netherlands, it is common to begin a conversation with the informal pronouns, which is definitely not the case in German.

When speaking to someone of a higher professional position, the informal ‘you’ should never be used. When speaking to a person older than you, a sentence must begin with the formal ‘Sie.

Conducting Business

When conducting business in the Netherlands, the person you are speaking with will likely be the one making the decision. In Germany, however, this is not the case: decisions are made high up in the company. When trying to get a deal done in Germany, it is important to keep this in mind. Always try to get as high up the ladder as possible when you trying to close a business deal.

About Tim Oldenhuis

I’m a native Dutch translator living in the Netherlands. I translate for Coursera to help make education accessible for everyone. My interests are SEO, Gamification and Marketing. I translate website content and blogs, primarily from English and German into Dutch.