Tone: how to recognise it, retain it and convey it in translations

If the introduction of texting to the modern world has highlighted anything, it’s the difficulty in conveying the right tone of voice in your messaging.

How many times have you sent a text only for it to be misconstrued?
Or received an email message and completely misread the intentions behind it?

While black and white text should – in theory – make things clearer, elements such as tone of voice, humour, emotion and sarcasm can blur those lines considerably. And don’t get us started on emojis!

A common tool for text-speak, emojis now allow us to sum up a feeling, experience or opinion in an instant. But what can you do when emojis aren’t an option? How can you convey that same messaging, while relying only on words? And how can you ensure this remains accurate, even when translating into a different language altogether?!

Translation of intentions

The key to translating text accurately and sensitively lies primarily in understanding the text at its source. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But misconstrued texting only highlights how easy it can be to take an original piece of text, change just the slightest inference, punctuation or word, and convey a completely different kind of message altogether!

When it comes to translations, the focus shouldn’t simply be on the words themselves, but the underlying messages, concepts and ideas. Good translation boils down to conveying knowledge as much as making words work in a new language.

That’s where tone comes in – tone is a powerful thing when it comes to selling a product or service, and is often integral to the success of brand marketing. But with that power comes also the potential to lose out if you fail to recognise, and convey it, effectively.

Lazy translations in the Trump campaign

Each year we see more and more translation fails from large organisations that should (you’d think) know better. And Trump’s 2016 US election campaign was just one such example of how lazy translations can be more damaging than using none at all.

In an attempt to improve ratings amongst US Hispanics, Trump supporters were given signs to hold up pronouncing “Hispanics for Trump” …or so they thought.

While there were only 3 words to translate in this case (or 2 if you disregard “Trump”), members of the crowd held up signs that read “Hispanics para Trump”. The correct translation would have used “Hispanos” not “Hispanics”, and “por” not “para” – the right preposition to use if you want to express support for someone with your vote.

With just 3 words to communicate, the campaign not only translated the words incorrectly, but failed to get the context right too. Which, no doubt, did little to bolster Hispanic support for Trump during the US election.

So, the key to avoiding important messaging getting lost in translation? Focus not just on the words that are used, but the ideas behind those words. And ensure that whoever you have enlisted to take care of your translation understands those ideas just as well as you do.

If you’re looking for a certain type of linguist, or are dealing with particularly complex translations, don’t panic – speak to the team here at Sally Walker Language Services to discuss the best translation options for you, whatever your industry or specialism.