Requesting translations of documents and materials can all too often be misconstrued as merely converting text from one language into another. However, if this is the case, it would ultimately lead to the failure of such translation projects to achieve the outcomes desired; building brand awareness and reputation, growing revenue in foreign markets, and ensuring cultural appropriateness. By considering cultural appropriateness in translation, companies can effectively navigate foreign markets, respecting local customs and norms while fostering brand awareness and reputation.

Cultural Appropriateness

Cultural appropriateness refers to the practice of using cultural elements respectfully and responsibly without exploiting or misrepresenting them. Translations should avoid appropriating or commodifying cultural symbols, practices, or artifacts without proper understanding or permission from the originating culture. Translators should be aware of the potential power dynamics and historical context surrounding cultural elements and take care not to perpetuate harmful or disrespectful practices.

The phrase so goes that “words don’t mean, people mean”. That means that what we communicate can be interpreted differently by different individuals, especially those whose background, culture and lifestyle are quite different from the originally intended audience.

That’s why effective translations are more than just a language conversion. To deliver the right message, they need to take cultural appropriateness into account. Some of the biggest marketing fails of all time have occurred where cultural appropriateness has not been considered when delivering a global message into multiple markets.

cultural appropriateness

In particular, there are four key areas which need to be considered among all translation project plans:

Translation of tone of voice

Direct translations do not always carry through the same tone of voice or intended delivery of a message. This can be particularly critical to take into account when translating materials regarding sensitive topics. For example, the term “unplanned pregnancy” can translate directly into “unwanted pregnancy” in some languages – and these phrases carry very different meanings and connotations.

Likewise, friendliness and humour or maintaining a business tone may not carry through when translated and may inadvertently cause offence in some cultures. The phrase “Holy cow!” for example is used to indicate shock or surprise in Western markets but has religious connotations in other markets. The use of humorous colloquialism in this instance could damage business reputation if directly translated for use in other markets.

Adapting to different levels of education and understanding

Different countries will hold different levels of education regarding various topics. For example, the understanding of innovative technologies such as IoT or digital transformation may not be so widespread in certain geographic markets, especially less technologically advanced markets. Hence the need to ensure use of more simplified language and deeper explanations may be needed for such markets. Learn more about plain language here.

Awareness of beliefs

Different regions can carry different beliefs around certain topics and so how such content topics are communicated must be considered, rather than simply directly translating content for a domestic market. For example, when tasked with communicating the reasons why cancer screening is so important, it is important to consider the thwarted beliefs in some countries that people get cancer because of their behaviours or as punishment for their mistakes or even that it is something that is contagious.

More than words

Cultural appropriateness applies to more than words. When translating materials, it is also wise to have your translator or translation agency partner to consider the appropriateness of imagery or symbols used in content aimed at foreign target markets.

Certain symbols like those commonly associated to communicate things like “WiFI” or “danger” may not be so familiar or be misinterpreted in foreign markets – or they may use alternative symbols more widely. Use of imagery that your target market will relate to will also be more effective than using imagery that is more reflective of the source country.

The consistent need for human input in translations

Cultural appropriateness is the key reason why there is and will continue to be a consistent need for human input into translations. Advanced intelligence and machine learning solutions can do a fantastic job of converting  very specific, pre-edited language but ultimately, ensuring cultural appropriateness requires the knowledge and input of a professional translator, who is familiar with the local behaviours and beliefs of the target market.

cultural appropriateness

Cultural Sensitivity in Translations

Cultural sensitivity in translations refers to the practice of respecting and honoring the cultural nuances, values, and sensitivities of the target language and culture. It involves several key aspects to ensure accurate and culturally appropriate translations:

  1. Respecting cultural nuances: Translators need to be aware of and sensitive to the specific cultural nuances and customs associated with the target language. This includes understanding idiomatic expressions, proverbs, and cultural references that may not have direct equivalents in the source language. By capturing these nuances accurately, translators can convey the intended meaning and cultural context effectively.
  2. Avoiding stereotypes and biases: Translations should avoid perpetuating stereotypes or biases that may exist between cultures. Translators should be mindful of any preconceived notions or biases they may have and strive to provide an objective and unbiased representation of the source text. This involves using inclusive language and avoiding assumptions or generalizations about a particular culture or group of people.
  3. Adapting content to cultural sensitivities: Translators must adapt the content to align with the cultural sensitivities of the target audience. This involves understanding the social, religious, and cultural norms of the target culture and making appropriate adjustments to the translation. For example, humor, sarcasm, or certain cultural references that may be acceptable in one culture could be offensive or misunderstood in another. Translators should ensure that the translated content is culturally appropriate and does not inadvertently offend or alienate the audience.


Cultural appropriateness and sensitivity are paramount in translation projects, extending beyond language conversion to encompass the adaptation of tone, consideration of educational disparities, awareness of cultural beliefs, and appropriate use of imagery. Human input remains essential for ensuring translations respect the cultural values and nuances of the target audience. Prioritising cultural appropriateness not only aids in building brand reputation and awareness but also fosters respectful engagement with diverse cultures. When seeking translation services in Australia or other regions, collaborating with experienced professionals who understand the cultural intricacies of the target audience is crucial for successful global expansion efforts.

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About the Author: Sonia Sanchez
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