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Savoir Faire: Knowing your target audience.

Sometimes it seems like the internet can read your mind. We all search for various topics in search engines. No sooner has the text flown off into cyber-space, do adverts and suggestions appear as if by magic. As a translator, researching the product or industry is key to accurate translation. The search engine translation tools often fail to pick up on the intended use of the search, only recognising the subject as being of interest.

This is the same when translating from English into another language it can be hard for machine translation to get it right. How would it know if the text in English or the target text’s purpose is better suited to an informal or formal approach?

Even if languages such as French are seemingly becoming less prescriptive and more informal especially across social media, it’s important to get ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ the right way round. When commissioning a translation great consideration is taken over the tone and style of the client’s desired outcome and one of these aspects is formality.

In English, referring to ‘oneself’ has almost disappeared in daily language usage. Many tend to think that informality is measured by the use of colloquial or slang language. However, in the case of translation, formality refers to each language’s set of rules that govern the language used. These rules can be the key to conveying your message correctly and also coming across as an organisation that knows its stuff.

As Brits, we’ve certainly all been made to attempt a European language either at school or college but we’re also infamously a little ‘nuls point’ at communication when on holiday. In English we have a variety of vocabulary, tone of voice and code-switching but in some European languages grammatical rules centre on how you address someone, in particular which word you use for ‘you’. In French you can use ‘vous’ or ‘tu’; ‘vous’ for a stranger, someone older than you or someone you’re trying to be respectful towards and ‘tu’ for someone you know well, or someone the same age or younger than you.

Translators work with a variety of languages and there is always a choice between the levels of formality. Some languages may be easier than others, for example, Scandinavian languages tend to be more informal, I was really surprised to call my doctor in Iceland by his first name.

It’s certainly a challenge to navigate formal and informal usages, particularly as social media campaigns are reigning and ‘L’Académie Française’ slowly loosens its grip. Translators must pay careful attention and consider: who the project is aimed at, what its purpose is and therefore the level of formality required before setting the tone of the translation. It’s important the target text conveys the intended message and reaches the appropriate audience without causing any unintended offence or scandal or embarrassment for the original author. There will probably be a day, where automatic translation manages to identify and accurately use formality correctly 100% of the time, but it’s not today so get your message right by putting your trust in the human touch.

Photo source: Business Insider

#formality #languages #translation #savoirfaire

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