Cultural Sensitivity: Why Human Translation Plays a Vital Role

May 17, 2023

In a globalised world where empathetic communication is essential for both business and personal relationships, human translation plays a vital role in ensuring cultural sensitivity. A successful translation is about more than just replacing words from one language to another; it requires a careful understanding of the cultural nuances and context of the source and target languages. In this blog post, we explore why human translation is essential for ensuring cultural sensitivity in global communication and why machine translation often falls short.

cultural diversity, cultural sensitivity

The inadequacies of machine translation

Although widely available and convenient, machine translation is not always equipped to handle the complexities of cultural sensitivity. Generally, machine translation struggles with context. Although the technology behind neural machine translation is improving to take into account wider influences, effectively capturing the nuances of a language and reflecting appropriate cultural protocols is still beyond its capabilities. This is where human translation comes in.

What are the advantages of human translation?

Human translation is the process of translating a text from one language to another by a skilled linguist who is fully familiar with both languages and cultures. Ideally, these linguists will be native to the target market and live in that country to have the most up-to-date understanding.

Human translation goes further than only replacing words. Instead, this process also involves interpreting the meaning behind a text, its tone and its objectives. Furthermore, while human translators are skilled at ensuring the accuracy of a translated text, they also consider any cultural differences to ensure the translated text is appropriate for the target audience.

human translator

Examples of cultural sensitivity

The ability to employ cultural sensitivity is a valuable part of the human translation process, but exactly does this mean? Below, we share a few examples of where cultural sensitivity may be required when translating a document.

One example of how human translation uses cultural sensitivity is the translation of idiomatic expressions. Idioms are expressions that have a meaning not directly related to the words used. For example, the English idiom “raining cats and dogs” means it is raining heavily, not that actual animals are falling from the sky! In other languages, idiomatic expressions can have different meanings or may not exist at all. A human translator who is familiar with both languages and cultures can accurately convey the meaning of an idiomatic expression to the target audience. On the contrary, a machine translation may produce a literal output that does not make sense.

Another time when human translation delivers excellent value by implementing cultural sensitivity is in the translation of marketing materials. Marketing materials are designed to appeal to the target audience, and cultural differences can significantly affect their effectiveness.

A human translator, with a complete understanding of the source and target cultures, can effectively translate marketing materials to ensure they resonate with the intended audience. This creative translation process is known as transcreation and can include adapting slogans, taglines, and descriptions to ensure that they are culturally appropriate and engaging in the target market.

Cultural sensitivity is also essential when dealing with sensitive or controversial topics. A human translator who wholly appreciates the cultural backgrounds of the source and target markets can accurately convey the meaning of the text while avoiding any misunderstandings or offending the target audience. For example, when translating a political speech, the translator must be aware of any cultural or political sensitivities of the target audience and ensure that the translation is appropriate.

cultural sensitivity, speech

The technology surrounding machine translation may be significantly improving, offering a quick, easy way to translate material. However, it is yet to replace the skills offered via human translation. With human translators able to understand the context and apply cultural sensitivity to their work, you can be confident of receiving a translated file that resonates with your audience instead of alienating them.

Mission Translate has an extensive database of over 4,000 human translators in over 140 languages, each skilled in delivering high-quality translations that demonstrate cultural sensitivity. Please follow the link to our Translation Services page to learn more, or get in touch with our team if you have any questions.

  • US: +1 (347) 391 0672

European Office:

Kandoy House, 2 Fairview Strand, Dublin 3, D03 R8P3

  • EU: +44 (0) 121 296 9870