The Difficulties of Translating Social Media Content

April 6, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

“Social media” is one of those terms that everyone has heard, and has some understand as to what it probably means, but few of us have probably stopped to look it up. It is everywhere these days, and only the true anti-tech proponents are the ones who are deliberately missing out it seems. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even YouTube accounts are practically necessities for any and all businesses these days. Not only do they make direct communication with customers easier, but they also show that a business is invested and interested in new technology and trends.

Let’s take a moment to define social media, though. Social media is the term used for any sort of computer-mediated tool or program that helps people and businesses connect with each other in terms of sharing, chatting, and more. The very first social media network was probably MySpace, but the preferred one these days is Facebook, with Twitter and some other networks coming in at a close second. Some social media tools or networks are more specific, like LinkedIn, which is marketed as a social network for professionals seeking work, business partners, etc.

All of these social media networks started off being English only, but like all good things, they soon caught on with other cultures who speak a myriad of languages. The programmers who work on these tools had to figure out the best way to deal with translating the entire network into various other languages. Since American, English-speaking companies created these networks, a lot of the terminology that is now linked with them was coined first in English. This creates a challenge for translators who need to figure out a way to get the meaning of a social media term across.

Sometimes, the solution is to just adopt a loan word, like the fact that there is no translation for the word “Facebook”. It has simply been adopted by many other languages. The “like” feature, however, is translated into other languages using the word for “to like” in that language, generally. In terms of other networks like Twitter, new words are created that are based on the original terminology. For instance, the verb “to tweet” in Spanish is “tuitear”. Of course, there is another way to translate this, which would be to use the verb that means “the sound that a bird makes” in Spanish or whatever language is the target language, but that can take away from the brand image of the social network and make it seem less streamlined.

There are a handful of social media tools that have been created by companies based in other countries, like RenRen in China and VK in Russia, but they generally haven’t caught on outside those countries except in immigrant communities. The social media giant is still the U.S., and this will probably continue, meaning they will be in constant need of translators to work with when the latest social media tool goes global. In fact, it might just be easier to create a new social media tool with several language models in mind.

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Category: Business Translation

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