4 differences between translation and adaptation

Taken in 2011 at an airport in China, this picture snaps a Chinese sentence and its translation. Each Chinese word has been correctly converted in the English message and the sentence is semantically and almost grammatically correct. Yet, the English sentence still appears strangely straightforward and uncannily discriminatory. This is one evident way how translation and adaptation differs.

Wondering how different translation and adaptation are? Here are 4 ways:

  1. To convert vs to suit

Translation is the process of converting words or text from one language into another; in other words, a translation is a process of using the exact equivalent word in another language.

An adaptation is the action or process of adapting or being adapted. In other words, it is a change or the process of change by which an element finds a way to suit to its target environment. Hence, adaptation proposes solutions to reinforce the essence while communicating in another language.

For instance, Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet has been translated into various languages, such as French “Roméo et Juliette,” in Simplified Chinese “罗密欧与朱丽叶,” or Spanish “Romeo y Julieta.” The story, the characters and the setting are exactly the same in every language. However, the Shakespearean story has been adapted into various versions, such as the American movies West Side Story (1957) and Titanic (1997), where the essence of unconditional-love-despite-family-feud is kept but the cultural setting, characters and plots are varied to suit and emotionally touch the (almost) contemporary English American audience’s.

  1. Textual context vs audience context

Translation allows communication in other languages and takes account of the textual context by choosing the right word in case of homonymous words or ambiguous phrases.

back translation of French translation: luster/smooth the sausage

Adaptation preserves or even improves the quality of the text in the target language as it goes beyond the context of the text; it focuses on how the audience will read and what will the audience want to read.

  1. Convenience vs Strategies

Translation aims at communicating and informing conveniently the audience in another language, whereas adaptation serves to communicate and inform strategically the audience by taking into account of their minding, behaviour and preferences.

An adapted text can be phrased differently from its original version, since each word is strategically thought through and researched in order to create an effect on the reader.

  1. Efficiency vs Effectiveness

If your goal is to get the message out quickly and to inform without necessarily engaging the audience, translation is your efficient mean of communication. However, if your purpose is to engage your audience, your message should be effective containing a strategy. Effectiveness is not only assessed on the ease of understanding the message, but also on the impact following reading the text, such as responses to a call-to-action for instance.

The English sentence in the picture may have impacted your perception of the airport’s professionalism. However, imagine if the unadapted translation lies on a security detail, the investment on translation would not only play out on the company’s professionalism, but also on the trust of your products.

The “old weak sick disabled and pregnant only” could be adapted (and not translated) as “courtesy seat for people with reduced mobility,” which will project a professional image and allow the company to receive international trust from foreign travelers.

Want to know how adaptation or translation could work for your company? Contact an expert at Orchimedia.

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