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The Importance of Cultural Sensitivity in Translation

Last Updated On: May 4, 2023 by The Migration Translators

The Importance of Cultural Sensitivity in Translation
Last updated:May 4th, 2023 by The Migration Translators

One of the drawbacks of computer-based translation programs that the translation industry is repeatedly pointing out is that it totally lacks any ability to integrate cultural sensitivity into their software. Well, that could all change of course in the future, but at present, if you are looking for a translation service for whatever it is that you need translating for a foreign market, make sure that it takes into account cultural sensitivity as well as pride in accuracy.

What is cultural sensitivity?

Cultural sensitivity is simply an ability to adapt translated text so that it doesn’t offend or confuse the readership at the translated material is aimed at. This is more important at the translation stage because professional translators are expected to have feet firmly planted in both the culture and language of the source of the text and that of the target for the text as we. 

Most businesses, for example, may have little notion of what the sensitivities are of the people for whom they are aiming their material. They may not even realize that the target readers use different currencies, numbering systems, and units and live in different time zone. They may not realize that certain colors which mean something to the people in one country may mean something quite different to people in another country, or even a particular community in that country. Humor could be different, so a joke in one culture may be a slur or insult. Clothing, appearance, and gender differences can all have an impact on translation outcomes.

What is the importance of cultural sensitivity in language translation?

Cultural sensitivity can be an extremely important aspect of translation, or it may not be very important at all. It all depends on what is being translated and who is the expected target readership. At worst, material that is aimed at a new market that has not been subjected to culturally sensitive may invite ridicule, scorn, anger, disinterest, or just confusion. There are many examples that are used time and time again of typical mistakes in translating marketing material in particular insensitively. Some of the classic examples are slogans translated from English into Chinese such as the often quoted KFC “finger-lickin’ good” that translated into “eat your fingers” in Chinese. 

It is rare these days for successful international corporations to get their messaging wrong through translation simply because of an understanding of the importance of cross-cultural communication. It is more relevant for new businesses or businesses expanding their sales into new markets that have yet to appreciate the importance of cultural sensitivity in communication.

How do you handle cultural sensitivity in language translation?

The main message from this focus on the importance of cultural sensitivity is that you do need to be choosy about who translates your material for you. The greater the focus on marketing and the use of colloquial slogans and messaging, the more important it is for you to use translators who understand how to adapt the text you submit so that it becomes culturally sensitive. This needs for cultural sensitivity becomes less important for such things as technical manuals, scientific documents, medical research papers, and so on, as these often use a more recognized ‘international language’, understood by the users of these materials. 

When professional translators translate material that needs to be adjusted to suit a specific target readership, then they will use localization techniques. Basically, this is an assumption that it would be impossible to literally translate the material they have been given as it may offend or confuse the readers, so the words and phrases are changed to best get the message across.


Take cultural sensitivity into account when planning to get your material translated for the first time in a new language. Culturally insensitive translation could end your experiment in this new market. It is advisable to hire a team of experienced translators who can help you create culturally sensitive translations.