Don’t fall into the festive translation trap

05/12/2012 | Hayley

Christmas is fast approaching and for businesses that means putting the finishing touches to their festive marketing campaigns. However, if you have a global client or customer base, be sure to tread carefully when it comes to translation.

Sending a greetings card to your most loyal customers is a great way of showing how much you appreciate them. Digital communication means it has never been easier for businesses to build up a customer base overseas. Sending clients a card at Christmas is a good way of demonstrating how much you value their custom, while also reminding them of your services and announcing what you have planned for the new year.

Christmas around the world

However, before you get carried away sending your cards off to the printers, it’s vital you check you are sending the right message to the right recipient. Sending out a foreign language card riddled with errors or that doesn’t take into account the local traditions could backfire and end up with you losing a customer.

Christmas may be celebrated by millions of people all over the world, but the customs each culture holds vary significantly. For instance, in the UK we sit down to turkey but this is not the case in Poland, where the poultry is traditionally consumed on New Year’s Day. In fact, Britons didn’t use to eat turkey for Christmas either, until the 17th century when it became popular – although not as popular as goose. As you can see, choosing an image of a Christmas dinner table with a turkey at the centre may not work on all of your client base.

And while in the UK the custom after finishing all that turkey is to light a brandy-soaked Christmas pudding, in Austria chocolate mousse is a more popular festive dessert. Did you also know that in many countries Christmas dinner is not even eaten on Christmas Day, but the night before? Denmark, Czech Republic, Iceland, Peru, Poland and Slovakia are among the countries where the main feast is usually served on December 24th.

With so much variation in the way people celebrate the festive season, marketers should take care when penning the message they will include in their promotional greetings cards. And that’s before you even get to the translation!

Happy holidays/Merry Christmas/ Joyeux Noël

Once you have your message and have tailored it to your audience, you can consider the translation.

In the US, saying “Happy Holidays” is standard, but in England we would probably choose “Merry Christmas” as the festive greeting, so you can see that even within the confines of one language there is disparity between seasonal messages. When translating the text into another language, there are even more minefields to navigate to ensure your festive greeting is conveyed correctly.

We have said it before and we are going to say it again: machine translations might be cheap (and in many cases free) but they aren’t always reliable and are often inaccurate. Identifying the traditional seasonal greetings given in a particular country is certainly not something a machine will do.

Renato Beninatto, chief marketing officer of Moravia, tells Sacramento Bee that choosing the relatively simple American greeting “happy holidays” can backfire when using a machine translation, which will most likely translate it into “have a great vacation” in French. Mr Beninatto suggests having your Christmas promotional materials checked over by someone whose mother tongue is the language you are targeting. They will not only be able to tell you whether or not it is accurate, but also whether the words and meaning you have chosen will be understood by the intended audience.

“Holiday greetings are a simple way to build relationships with colleagues and friends […] but don’t let their simplicity catch you off guard. The wrong translation can lead to the wrong message about you,” Mr Beninatto warns.

Here at Language Insight, we recommend you get your Christmas marketing materials translated by one of our professional linguists. They will not only ensure the text is accurate, but also that it is localised. This means taking into account the regional dialect, any recent changes to the vocabulary and the local traditions and customs.

Get in touch today with the details of your translation, and if you’re planning a Christmas marketing campaign, share your tips below.

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