While English Speaking users account for over 25% of people on social media, that still leaves 75% of people unaccounted for. So where do the other 75% lie? Over 19% of social media users are Chinese speaking, 8% are Spanish, and 5% are Arabic. Other common languages on social media are Portuguese, Indonesian, French, Japanese, Russian, and German.
And with so many different languages on the internet, anyone who is targeting their efforts toward a purely English speaking population is losing out on a vast number of potential consumers. This is why so many people are now investing in online translation services. But translating social media content isn’t always as clear cut as it may seem, and some challenges may present themselves.
What is Social Media?
Before we dive into some challenges with social media translation, why don’t we make it clear what we mean by Social Media. Social media is any type of website or application that allows users to create and share content for the purposes of social networking. Some people use social media to connect with long lost relatives or friends, while others use it to connect with business minded individuals or to promote their service or product.
The first ever form of Social Media was called MySpace. Today, MySpace is virtually non-existent and has been replaced with other forms of media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And while all of these Social media platforms started off in English, many have now caught on in other languages. But while translating social media content may seem pretty clear cut, there are actually quite a few challenges that can arise including:
The Challenge of Terminology
Terminology is one of the biggest challenges that arise when it comes to online translation services for social media content. Why? Because each social media platform has its own unique terminology, and not all of this terminology has an equivalent in other languages. Take Facebook for example. When you use Facebook, you have the option to “like” someone’s page. But “like” doesn’t have an exact equivalent in every language. In Italian, for example, people would have to say “I like”. And while “I like” your photo might make sense, asking someone “how many I likes do you have on your page?” wouldn’t.
In some cases, where words do not have exact translations into other languages, creating new lingo may be necessary. For example, on Pinterest we “pin” posts that we like; “Pin” standing for the little pins that you use to post things on a bulletin board. But not every language has a name for this object. In such a case, the social media platform must invent new, creative words to represent the same thing.
The Challenge of Length
When it comes to online translation services, another huge drawback is length. While some social media platforms allow you to post as much or as little as you like, others have character limits. Twitter, for example, has a character limit of 280 words (with the exception of some languages). But when you are translating from English to another language, you can sometimes run into the issue of language expansion.
Language expansion is what happens when the number of words in your translated language ends up being greater than it was in English. Not only can this pose a problem on Social Media Platforms that set character limits, but it can also generate issues for those who like to keep their posts short for the sake of attracting the highest levels of engagement (short posts are considered to draw more attention than long ones).
The Challenge of Humor
Many brands that are using Social Media as a marketing strategy turn to humor to attract an audience. But did you know that humor is not a universal concept? What we in North America may find funny, other cultures may find cold or even offensive. Finding a way to translate humor, then, can pose as a difficult task for online translation services. Trying to make something funny from one language to another takes a great deal of skill and confidence on the behalf of any translator – even the most seasoned ones.
Hashtags are a form of social media convention that were originally invented by Twitter. Since then, however, hashtags have caught on to numerous different platforms, with the leading one being Instagram. But how do you translate “#” into another language? In many cases, you don’t. In some other cases, hashtags need to be placed at the end of the sentence rather than at the beginning. Determining exactly how to make use of hashtags can pose a major challenge to online translation services.
An idiom can be defined as a phrase or expression wherein the ordinary meaning of words does not apply. For example, “I let the cat out of the bag”, doesn’t literally mean that you have let a cat out of a bag. Rather, it means that you have told a secret. We have lots of idioms in the English language, and we use them all the time.
The problem is, these idioms don’t translate well into other languages. In fact, idioms can be one of the most difficult things for online translation services to translate. If you were to translate “I let the cat out of the bag” to Japanese, they would have no idea what you were talking about.
Ideally, idioms would be left out of social media translations, but when they do arise, they can be very difficult for the translator to manage.
Because of challenges such as these, understanding and speaking two languages does not mean you can translate the languages. This is especially true when it comes to Social Media content, and is the exact reason why so many people are now turning to professional online translation services for help.
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