Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Turkey for the first time. I deplaned in the City of Two Continents opens in a new window, Istanbul. As I walked toward passport control, I saw a sign in English saying “Other Nationalities”. I did not see any other options listed in English. Passport control was overflowing with people and I did not want to queue up in the wrong line. Perhaps it was reasonable to assume that they mean other than Turks. But I couldn’t help wondering what “Other” may possibly be also referring to. Since I am
heavily involved in the translation business, I automatically thought of the importance of context translation.
Also at the airport, during a stop to the restroom, a sign over the toilet read as follows. “Help us conserve water, please flush twice”. Why twice? If you are trying to conserve water, why not just flush once?
Later, at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, a sign next to deli meat read, “Turkey Ham”. Is this local ham or ham made of turkey?
During a meeting with our Turkish translators, Ali, one of our senior translators, informed me that one of our competitors once asked him to use a new Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tool. He mentioned that to save on costs, it built its process around translating only non-translated strings. This was done without giving him access to the translated context around it. Obviously, a flawed process that has the tendency to produce the above accurate in grammar and spelling translations, but vague or incorrect meanings.
Perhaps “Other Nationalities” should have been translated “Non-Turks”. Perhaps the toilet sign should have said “Flush no more than twice”. Or perhaps “Turkey ham” should have been “Turkey-meat ham”. One cannot be sure till the context surrounding these signs is made clear.
Role of Context in the Translation Process
GlobalVision’s Window to the World program is devised to enable companies reach 90% of their worldwide audience by translating a landing page into 12 languages. Turkish is one of the languages we recommend translating into as Turkey now, with a population of over 70 million strong, generates enough GDP revenue to be number 13 on the language list.
If you intend to give your customer the full and accurate meaning, not just the accurate grammar and spelling, make sure that the translator understands what he or she is translating. Use a localization & translation process that gives the translator the full context around the text to translate. Or work with translation professionals that know what to look for. If not, perhaps the best use of the resulting translation is to, well, flush it twice…