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How to translate local content for your native audience?

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

As we have already discussed in a recent blog about transcreation, an essential component of localisation consists in adapting the content for the target audience it is intended to. This may even extend to visual clues such as in animation movies. However, this necessary step might be made harder if a piece of content is written from a point of view at the other end of the spectrum from your target language or focuses on a topic where the level of local knowledge may wildly differ from one country to another. In my time at Expedia Group, I was often confronted with the problem when I had to translate content about French destinations originally written for the American point of sale. As can be feared, a considerable amount of information was simply not relevant or overly obvious (not to say cliché !) for a French audience.

Of course, you can always consider removing some specific bits of information. But if you are using a translation software like Trados, you may not be technically able to leave individual strings untranslated and would then be forced to manually delete the irrelevant content from the final file to be delivered. What’s more, you may be running the risk of impoverishing your copy, or making it too short for it to have a proper SEO impact. Faced with such risks, here are a few practical tips you may find useful in such situations.

It may sound all too obvious...

In an article written about your own country, you may often find information that would be considered common knowledge for your target audience. It could be details about the geographical situation, the weather and the recommended clothing, bank holidays and opening times, just to name a few. For instance, unlike French people, you may not be aware that museums are normally closed on Tuesdays in France (as they tend to be opened during the weekend). At the same time, this is still a valuable piece of information even to a French audience, as not all museums follow that rule. A simple way to reconcile the two could simply be to add a phrase like “As common for museums”, “For fear of sounding obvious”, or “just in case a reminder is needed”. On top of acknowledging the nature of the information being provided, it helps to create a conversational tone of voice that fits ideally in a blog or a travel guide.

Statue in the garden of the Louvre Museum

Another simple trick is to provide additional and more in-depth details that a target audience may find more helpful or inspiring. This is particularly effective when describing some well-known points of interest or touristy neighbourhoods, even if this means you have to perform some research. Let’s take this made-up sentence about the Louvres museum in Paris: “The Louvres museum is home to the Mona Lisa, Leonard da Vinci’s masterpiece.” Translated as is, a French reader would likely find such a sentence pointless, or worse, question the quality and value of a copy containing it. So a French translator would do well to adapt the sentence with something like: “Beside Leonard da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Louvres is home to such masterpieces as Venus de Milo and Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix.”. Inserting common nicknames - such as “La Dame de Fer” (the Iron Lady) instead of the Eiffel Tower - may also contribute to add to the local flavour specifically for your national audience.

Get the foreign element out

Quite understandably, any description of a destination will say as much about the target audience and their cultural references as about the described destination itself. All too often have I seen the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris being depicted as the resting place of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. While this is perfectly understandable if your article is intended for an English-speaking audience, you may want to swap and mention such famous national figures as Molière, Honoré de Balzac or Edith Piaf when translating the sentence in French. After all, when it comes to travelling, you want to go local. This may at times demand more editing and adaptation work. I remember translating a piece about the Quartier latin in Paris that was infused with references of Ernest Hemingway roaming the streets of this famous neighbourhood of the French capital. Instead, I chose to refer to Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who met, lived and worked here and are still to this day eponymous to the Quartier latin. This choice perfectly fitted the portrait of the student-like area, with the Sorbonne university and its heap of small quaint cafés.

Beyond cultural references, a text can betray its origin from its point of view, which may also imply clichés. Let’s look at this fictional paragraph:

Paris is situated on the banks of river Seine and boasts over 2000 years of history, as witnessed by its plethora of magnificent monuments. Today, it is famous around the world as the “city of lights” or “city of love”. The French capital is synonymous with the finer things in life and shines by its elegance and sense of style.”

Paris and the Seine river

Such expressions as “famous around the world” and “The French capital” indicate that the author is not French, but is writing from the outside. In a translation, you can reverse the perspective by saying that “the rest of the world is envious of the city of lights” or “Tourists from the four corners of the globe fall in love with our capital for the finer things in life it offers, as well as its elegance and sense of style.” Sometimes a simple change in syntax may help to turn a piece of information from its central position to simply being a detail to set the scene. This little trick is particularly useful with well-known information, such as Paris being situated on the river Seine. With that in mind, upon translating, you may want to rewrite the first sentence as follows: “Nestled on the meandering river Seine, Paris boasts over 2000 years of history and a plethora of magnificent monuments.”

In the end, the final copy in French could look something like this:

“Nestled on the meandering river Seine, Paris boasts over 2000 years of history and a plethora of magnificent monuments that have created the envy of the rest of the world. Tourists from the four corners of the globe endlessly fall in love with our capital for the finer things in life it offers, as well as its elegance and sense of style.”

Editing the syntax, swapping cultural references, changing the perspective: these are some of the useful tricks of the trade to adapt a piece of content to your target audience, so it does not feel translated but speaking naturally to them. Can you think of more? Feel free to share them with us!

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