Chinglish and the Art of Translation

Category: Culture, Language

In his play, Chinglish, David Henry Hwang explores the cultural perceptions hidden inside of language, and it’s the definition of these perceptions that make translation the creative art that it is. The play is on one level a linguistic slapstick of a love story between an American businessman who doesn’t speak Mandarin and a female Chinese government official. Yet, on another level, it’s a real exploration of how different cultures communicate with each other in a world where one set of closely-held preferences and beliefs are held in comparison with another…and somehow must find a common bond.

This is the real benefit of translation: the succesful communication of one set of culturally-defined concepts into a set of oftentimes different culturally-defined concepts. While expert translation can help you get there quickly, the real teacher is a strong understanding of the culture behind the language.

Working in the global business arena, you quickly learn that language is not only what you say but how you say it — not to mention how it is perceived — and this is where the fun and frustration both begin. Your translation represents your company’s brand image and establishes your reputation in global markets. A bad translation or even a confusing cultural message can have severe repercussions. Remember, there is more to translation than just swapping out one set of words for another if you really want to entrench your brand in another country. Professional translation that takes into account local cultural, political and societal norms is not called localization for nothing!

Photo attribution: malias