Anyone who's had a cross-cultural experience of any kind has likely had at least one moment like that. In a personal situation it can be funny. In a business setting, it can be damaging.
I love the discussions in this newsletter about the use of language and when and how Spanish-language translations are most effective. I'd like to offer some practical tips for marketers wanting to communicate effectively in Spanish -- whether the audience is in another country, another state or just down the street.
Making language meaningful requires more than just a literal translation of the content. In fact, the terms that have become common in the language services industry to describe what we do are "translation" and "localization" -- underscoring the fact that translation is really only half of it.
We all know the challenges of trying to make slang and colloquialisms work in another language. But icons, cultural symbols and even colors all have different meanings for different language groups -- and have just as much potential to cause miscommunication or, worse, irreparable offense. That's something marketers can ill afford. Better to ensure that all marketing communications embody the identical spirit, creativity and sensitivity found in the source material.
And even the same language -- Spanish, especially -- will vary according to the particular audience: the meaning of a word or phrase may differ from Mexico to Guatemala and even from Florida to Texas or California. Take for instance, "beans." Are we referring to frijoles, porotos or judías? When and where do we reference a palta, an aguacate or even avocado? When should we hop on the autobus, the guagua, the colectivo or, simply, the bus?
While technology certainly has streamlined the process, true communication can't happen without a professional, human touch. That's especially true with content that is particularly idiomatic or that relies on context -- whether witty, inspirational or simply aspirational in tone.
Consider these specific tips for communicating with Spanish-speaking audiences:
For the number two, in Latin America we use a hand with index finger and middle finger raised, with the palm of the hand facing the person whose hand is used. In Great Britain that same symbol is equivalent to giving someone the middle finger.
Another thought on symbols: while we assume that "$" refers to U.S. dollars, it is often used to represent local currency in other countries (Argentina, for example). While on the subject of numbers, take heed: $1,345.27 in the United States would be written as $1.345,27 in Latin American Spanish.
Marketing communications inherently seek to educate and to persuade. There's no reason why marketers should experience any drop-off in either as they migrate their copy from English to Spanish -- so long as they don't lose their grasp of nuance or their respect for what can be crucial linguistic and cultural differences.