The tweet referred to a pancake recipe they recently published.
Here’s the title:
And this is the first paragraph:
‘Do you keep fond childhood memories of that special day when you went to a coffee shop and enjoyed a big plate of pancakes with syrup?’
Of course, such a tweet couldn’t go unnoticed on any Spaniard’s feed for long. These are some of the replies and comments it received:
No. Ni yo ni nadie en toda España.
— Blanca R. Bandarrita (@bandarrita) 27 May 2018
‘No. Neither me nor anybody else in Spain.’
¿Pero qué infancia, desgraciaos? ¿Qué niño ha desayunado tortitas con sirope antes de que llegase Instagram? https://t.co/Fv9Dd0LhW8
— Virmania (@vvirmania) 26 May 2018
‘But which childhood, you morons? Which child has had American pancakes with syrup for breakfast before Instagram appeared?’
Sí nuestro papá nos llevaba a jugar béisbol, y luego nos tomamos una Coke viendo venir un Tornado, en nuestra apacible casita en Arkansas.
— Ignacio (@IGNACIOMARCHENA) 27 May 2018
‘Yes, we used to go play baseball with our daddy. Then go have a Coke while watching a tornado approach from our quiet little house in Arkansas.’
La infancia americana. Eso os pasa por copiar y pegar artículos de publicaciones americanas. Y lo mismo en otras secciones.
— Ladelquinto (@Uluru_mj) 27 May 2018
‘That’s what happens when you copy and paste articles from American publications. And the same [happens] in other sections.’
There’s annoyance, disbelief, sarcasm, and mistrust in those comments.
Because Spaniards don’t have American pancakes for breakfast. Today, you may find them in hipster coffee-shops in gentrified areas in a few big cities, but that’s about it. American pancakes are alien to the Spanish breakfast culture, so we can’t possibly remember having them for breakfast in our childhood.
Now that’s a big content fail right there. This happens when you don’t know who your readers are.
Things can backfire otherwise, as you can see.
These are some of the reasons behind this type of mistakes:
Same language but different culture
You want your writers to understand your target audience, so they can produce content that resonates with the readers. That includes not only sharing their language but also their culture. Your writer needs to understand your readers’ culture and be able to write in their local language variation.
For example, I, as a Spaniard, wouldn’t be able to write for a Mexican audience. Despite sharing our language, our vocabulary and writing styles differ a lot, and I don’t know much about their culture. You can’t produce anything worth reading if you don’t know who you’re writing for and what you’re writing about. The risks of mistakes, cultural faux-pas and clichés are high, too.
A generational gap between the writer and your audience
Imagine a 24-year-old content writer writing for an audience aged 45-50. Both writer and audience are from the same country and share both language and culture. If the writer doesn’t have a good general knowledge and research skills, they may end up making a mistake very similar to the American pancakes one. For example, writing ‘Do you keep fond childhood memories of having smashed avocado on toast for breakfast?’ in a food blog article aimed at middle-aged Brits.
Poor translation skills
Some companies run out of content ideas or don’t have the capacity to produce enough original content in a certain language. They often decide to get a batch of blog posts translated. The purpose is to keep publishing articles on a regular basis until they hire additional in-house writers or find reliable freelance content writers for regular collaboration. If you assign translation projects to people with no professional experience as translators, they may not know what to do with things like titles, names of institutions or monuments or cultural references. You risk receiving literal translations not suitable for the target audience.
A professional translator doesn’t skip the research stage of the process and makes sure the target text is fit for purpose. That means, cutting out irrelevant or inappropriate expressions, looking for alternative cultural references, checking links, rewriting whole paragraphs, choosing a completely different title for the article or replacing images, if necessary.
Here’s a story to illustrate the difference between a good and a bad translation job.
I recently translated an article about a list of products for travellers. The original text was written by an American writer. I researched the list of products and noticed that a few of them were commercialised in Spain with a different name, and one of them wasn’t even sold in Spain. I also localised the links to the products on Amazon to their corresponding Spanish equivalent. That’s why my article in Spanish only included 9 products, instead of the original 10, all of them linking to their corresponding Amazon page in Spanish.
Then, out of curiosity, I checked the Italian translation and saw that it included the same 10 products than the original English article. I searched for the product that wasn’t commercialised in Spain and noticed it wasn’t being sold in Italy either. Yet not only did the translator included it, he also left the product links to the US Amazon pages in English. You could tell that person didn’t spend much time on the project.
Remember: you get what you pay for. The less you pay, the less time your writers and translators will spend on the project, and the higher the risks of mistakes and inaccuracies.
Thanks for reading this article.
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