Did Social Media get lost in translation?

Social media is more popular now than ever.   Whether you are a student, business owner or CEO, chances are that social media is now fully incorporated into your daily life. 18% of the world’s population is now considered social media active.  Facebook and Twitter are the top players in this market with hundreds of millions of tweets and status updates being made every day.

The content created by end users on a daily basis circulates the entire world – literally. This data is extremely valuable to multinational corporations trying to fine tune their target audiences. Have you ever noticed a Nike commercial on the right panel of your Facebook page? Chances are you were shopping for sports shoes online prior to signing onto Facebook. This type of data is being commercialized daily in the social media world market.  As a matter of fact, Facebook’s primary source of income is sales revenue from the information that WE – the end users – post every day.

Since there are no borders in the world of social media, how is the information being interpreted by the rest of the world?

Twitter had recently reported that more than 50% of daily tweets are sent by non-English speaking users. English is quickly losing its pole position to other languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Russian and French.

Accordingly to a recent Google survey, more than 90% of marketers believe that social media is the best way to reach customers – even better then TV and paper magazines. It is also proven that end users prefer to receive data in their native languages rather than a translated version. Multinational corporations and news agencies are quickly catching up by creating content in different languages. Russia Today (RT) is now tweeting in Spanish, Arabic, English and Russian. FOX news acquired European and Middle Eastern news agencies in order to reach a global audience through delivery of the news in their native languages.

Delivering data, tweets, status updates and the like globally is no easy game.  Your message can easily be lost in translation or misinterpreted. Here are a few dos and don’ts that have been established as unspoken rules:

Each country needs its own feed, and two languages should never be mixed in one account. While it might seem cost effective to combine two countries speaking the same language in one feed, different heritages and backgrounds may lead people to be confused and hurt the company image in the long run.

Facebook and Twitter may seem like the top players in the US – however there are other players to be considered when going global. Mixi is much more popular than Twitter in Japan.  Google’s Orkut is used much more heavily in Brazil than Facebook. Chinese users like to send instant messages via Renren.  And many European professionals use Xing for networking.

It is also important to note that different countries use social media in different ways. French and German Twitter users tend to share more news and links, while Koreans and Malaysians are more likely to hold conversations.

Further research by Google has exposed huge differences in how much personal info is being shared on the web. The United States seems to be on top of the list, while other countries such as Germany and China lagged far behind.

The most effective way to engage followers and friends is to keep it local.  One option is “transcreation” which goes beyond simple translation and consists of adapting the content to the target locale directly. Most multinational companies hire a social media manager to keep on top of it.

Although there is no magic bullet to solve every challenge, ABLE Innovations offers several solutions for close to instant web translation and transcreation.  We can help you solve some of these challenges through cutting edge tools that have been proven successful in the past.



The Challenges of Subtitling in Localization Projects

Have you ever wondered why the subtitle you just read on that movie only represented half of what the character actually said? I used to wonder about that – until I got immersed into the exciting world of subtitling. A few months and thousands of translated subtitles later, I’m more thrilled with subtitling than I ever imagined I’d be. So here is a brief look into some of its magic from the perspective of a genuine subtitling enthusiast.

Translating subtitles is generally a lot more time-consuming than translating standard text. It requires you to take so many factors into consideration, pay attention to so many details and observe so many specific rules that each single subtitle turns into a unique challenge for the translator.

But let me go back to the question I opened with. The reason why sometimes not everything being said is translated lies mainly in the subtitle length and duration restrictions.

As a rule, one subtitle should consist of two lines only and each line has a certain character limit which can vary with different subtitling companies but on average is about 37-38 characters per line.

Another factor that comes into play when translating subtitles is the length of time the subtitle should stay on screen. Depending on the number of characters a subtitle contains, its duration can be anywhere between about a second or so (for single-word subtitles) and 6-7 seconds max.  An average adult can read about 15 characters per second, so if you have a 30-character subtitle but less than 2 seconds to display it (for example in a scene with fast exchange of lines between movie characters, dialogue overlapping, etc), then you will need to try and rephrase or truncate the translation even further in order to fit the duration allowed so the viewer has enough time to read the subtitle properly.

Because very few things can be more annoying (and capable of spoiling your whole movie experience) than subtitles changing too fast for you to be able to read, let alone grasp what is being said – and let’s not forget the fact that you’re supposed to be watching the movie as well – after all, you’re not reading a book.

And the challenge of correctly reproducing the full meaning of the original line into a more concise version can be truly mind-boggling sometimes – especially when translating from English to Bulgarian, where translated text is always longer than the source text anyway – in Bulgarian, we just don’t have so many short-cut ways of saying things like in English.

Localization may not be required in all types of translations out there, but with subtitling it is an absolute must and represents one of the biggest challenges for the translator. And obviously I am not talking about common stuff like time, weight, length, temperature, etc parameters. These are all easy enough for anyone with access to Google.

The real challenge is localizing idioms, metaphors, sayings, slang and the king of those linguistic pickles – Pun Almighty! When it comes to localizing a pun, one needs to be exceptionally creative in order to come up with a suitable alternative in the target language. And I think I would not be completely out of line if I said that from a translator’s point of view, a pun is not quite that much fun! (pun intended)

So, in a nutshell: translating subtitles is difficult, more time-consuming and more challenging than your average translation job. But this namely is why it’s so fascinating – it spurs your creativity and challenges your mind beyond what you think you can do. True, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s most definitely mine.


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