Problematic Pronunciation; Should I be Translating This?

International words and brand names don’t always roll off the tongue. Is that a problem?

The Guardian recently produced a list of how we should pronounce the names of international brands and chances are that if you read it, you were somewhat surprised.

According to this, Sports brand Nike rhymes with ‘spiky’, Porsche is pronounced as’‘Portia’ and the high-end French fashion house Hermès is pronounced ‘Ermez’.

A light went up for many who thought Nike rhymed with ‘like’ but at Talking Heads we were far from shocked to read about people’s reactions.

With brands zipping around the world at higher speeds than ever before, mispronunciation is bound to happen wherever a new concept settles.

Brand names risk being changed through every mouth that speaks them. (Did you really think that Swedes say ‘smorgasbord’ in the same way that you do?) Of course, the same thing happens when English words travel abroad.

The pronunciation of pop lyrics, food ingredients and fashion concepts (to name a few phenomena) change with every border that they cross and sometimes words assume a completely new meaning, too.

Example: In Germany, a mobile phone is colloquially called ‘Handy’, e.g., ‘Here’s my handy number’.

We translate for a wide range of clients and now and again we see that words need to be kept in English in order to communicate their true meaning in the target language. In fact, sometimes translating the world would alter its meaning, because the country has accepted the word as it is, in English.

Example: Order a cheesecake using the direct translation of the word in Sweden, i.e. ‘ostkaka’, and you will be presented with a traditional Swedish cake, very different to the kind we see in the UK and the U.S. Say ‘cheesecake’ in English and you’ll be served the New York cheesecake you expect.

The fact that English at times is kept in translations can occasionally cause clients to question our work. However in some languages there simply isn’t a better way of describing ‘raw food’ than by using its English name – especially when local chefs have released books on the matter, calling it ‘raw food’.

The fact that words aren’t translated doesn’t mean that we are lazy; it means that the concept is powerful enough to stand on its own legs – and in Talking Heads’ case, that we’ve done our market research.

We may all have pronounced Nike wrong but then again, us Brits struggle to pronounce the word ‘scone’ in the same way across the country. It really is no wonder that pronunciation gets muddled up abroad – the best guarantee of accuracy is to get the professionals in.

Find out which words and concepts you should and shouldn’t be translating; speak to Talking Heads today.

0114 257 2077


Sectors: Communications
Topics: Localisation
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