4 Strategies to be Culturally Inclusive When Planning a Translation Project
Imagine sitting in a GP’s clinic, having recently landed in a new country where you don’t speak the language, with a sick baby in your arms. Imagine what it’s like to not understand what the doctor is saying to you. Imagine the fear.
This is the reality for many new arrivals to these shores. Often having come from war torn countries where they have been subjected to unimaginable horrors.
Translating, then, in the context of Australia’s multiculturalism is not just about words and language. It’s about systems, culture, pre-existing knowledge, learning methods, literacy levels… A lot needs to happen for translations to be effective.
Different approaches to translation
Having worked in the translation industry for some years, I see many translation companies taking a transactional approach. They receive a document, send it to a translator and then back to the client without taking the time to understand the intricacies of the overall project.
But at Sylaba, that’s not how we handle translation projects. We plan and execute our projects using strategies that are culturally inclusive.
Before beginning any project, ask these two important questions:
- Why are you developing your resource?
- What is the main idea you want people to understand?
Your resource needs to be structured around the answer to these two questions. Your audience needs to be able to clearly see the main ideas and the call to action within the first few seconds of looking at your resource.
Let’s take this example, about some likely side-effects of cancer treatment. The organisation realised that cancer patients often start making unhealthy eating choices because of the changes in taste they experience during cancer treatment. They created this resource to tell people that even if they don’t like it, they should still eat healthily.
As you can see from the image, all the important information is on the first half of a 6-page fact sheet. If the person has time and is interested, they can read the rest of the document but if they don’t, they have already seen and understood the main information.
Another thing to note is that a really clear structure helps make the information accessible.
Talking about accessibility, how do we approach the cultural differences that might affect the outcomes of a community engagement project?
Cultural adaptation is the process of modifying the content and the design of a resource to achieve the same effect on every community.
There are two components of a resource we need to adapt: the content and the design. Adapting the content is about modifying the message to meet your audience’s needs. Using plain language and inclusive and culturally appropriate imagery.
First, let’s look at how we can adapt the imagery of a resource to each community group. Here are two images, Facebook ads for the Filipino community (left) and Thai community (right). Even though they are both Asian communities, the imagery is adapted to each country.
Notice that the Filipino ad is written in English, and not Tagalog. This is a good example of how translations are not always necessary when reaching culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
But these two images do not just make the documents look attractive. They help your audience relate to it. If we see someone like us featured in a resource, we automatically perceive it as being relevant to us.
Now look at two other resources.
The one on the left has images representing some of the concepts explained. I don’t need to know Chinese to understand I shouldn’t have fried food or sugary drinks, and that I should exercise as opposed to sitting on the couch.
But the document on the right is not attractive to read. We can’t tell who it’s written for. Can you see how it is at a disadvantage compared to the example on the left?
A client wanted to produce a resource with the main key message that ‘cancer can be prevented and here are three things you can do’. The purpose was to encourage people to make lifestyle changes and prevent cancer. We were to focus on the Arabic, Chinese, Greek and Hindi languages, and the translated fact sheets were to be distributed at GP clinics and community events.
We realised that to effectively convince people cancer can be prevented it was important to understand the misconceptions around cancer that people in these communities have. Because we won’t be able to convince someone to eat healthily to prevent cancer if they believe cancer is caused by being a bad person.
We had an idea there might be potential misconceptions so we asked community representatives directly and checked to see if there were others we might have missed.
This is what we found and how we reflected that in the actual resource.
Having that cultural understanding was essential to making this project work.
Briefing the translator
While working with NAATI certified translators based in Australia is compulsory for this type of project, something that is equally important and often forgotten is that the translators must be appropriately briefed. Your translations project manager should do this. Just as you would brief a copywriter or a marketing agency, you also need to extensively brief your translator if you want the best results.
This needs to include the use of plain language. It is important to use plain language when creating content for Australian diverse communities because plain language leads to clear communication, which builds trust, and trust directly generates engagement.
Once the translations are complete, it is equally important to go through a very thorough community checking process.
Community checking should be a collaborative process between the translator, the project manager and the community checker. The community checker needs to be asked specific questions and guided through what you want to check. For example:
- Does this document reflect how your community perceives domestic violence?
- Do you think the community will be able to do what we want them to do after they read this resource?
- Is the language easy enough to understand?
- Is it respectful?
- Are we missing anything important?
If you give the checker the resource to assess without any guidance, you will receive feedback similar to ‘this doesn’t make sense’, or whole sentences changed without any explanation why.
Having a guided community checking process is the best way to get constructive feedback.
So, for planning translation projects which are culturally inclusive you need to:
- Work on key content first: ask yourself, what do I need my audience to do?
- Understand your audience: what does my audience need to know to do what I want them to do?
- Present the information in a logical way: don’t waste any time in introducing the main takeaway
- Use plain language: break down complex concepts and use everyday words and simple sentence structures.
- Use community checkers: test the content with your target audience.
And the most important thing: BE RESPECTFUL
Do you want to learn more about what goes into a successful translation project? Perhaps you are considering having a Spanish-speaking friend of a friend do the translations for you. Check out our blog to learn more about translation!
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