5 Important Cultural Aspects to Bear in Mind When Translating for the African Market

Charlotte Miller

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Culture in its totality encompasses traits and characters of a particular group of people. These traits include language, dress, work, art, religion, history, politics, etc.

Besides this, culture covers a vast area of societal norms, values, and taboos. Therefore, it has two types, nonmaterial culture, and material culture. 

African culture is a mirror reflection of its community that plays a vital role in its growth. Consequently, Africa holds tight to the rope of different cultural aspects to cover all cultural norms, languages, and beliefs present throughout the continent.

It makes Africa distinctively and amazingly diverse. African culture also binds the people and helps to create a bridge between different communities. However, in some parts, it causes conflicts. One recent example is the Tigray region.

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5 Components That Play an Essential Role in African Culture

Nonmaterial culture is also called symbolic culture, and it includes beliefs, symbols, folkways, values, and the languages that make up the African society. At the same time, material culture comprises clothing, technology, architecture, and tools, etc. 

Let us dig a little deeper and understand how these cultural components play an essential role and manifest in African society.

  1. Social Values

Social values are the beliefs and practices of the African community. Some of these social values are closely related to religion and politics. In a traditional society, for example, Ibibio, festivities closely link to the people’s faith. Therefore, these festivals are celebrated with a religious undertone which includes sacrifices for social well-being.

  1. Moral Values

Africa also has a system of various customs and beliefs. All individuals of society follow these rules to maintain a good moral character. For example, African culture’s ethical code forbids harm to relatives, strangers, and foreigners. 

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  1. Religious and Political Values

Religion is the critical factor around which the rest of the African activities revolve. Their religion puts forward the concept of an all-knowing supreme being. It promotes the idea of good and evil spirits and highlights the sacrifices made for their deities. 

Not only this, but their political values also include the belief in hierarchy. Just like every family has a family head, villages have clan heads. Although postcolonialism Africans eradicated this system in significant parts of the continent, cult groups and clans still exist in some parts of Africa. For example, in the Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, the Ekpo cult beheaded any ruler that attempted to usurp power. 

  1. Language 

With more than 1500 languages, Africa’s linguistic diversity adds to its rich culture. For example, a study that consisted of 100 people from West Uganda found that an average person in Africa has a command of over four languages. 

The main reason for cultural diversity in Africa is its mixture of countries with various tribes. Each tribe has its language that introduces new barriers of culture. As a result, people amongst the tribe intercommunicate and learn each other’s language to promote their customs and beliefs.

  1. Traditional Customs

Africa has a vastly different set of aesthetic values and customs as compared to the west. Africa is multicultural as each tribe has other traditions that have a close relation to their culture. 

African society has many unique traditional customs, such as mbopo. A mbopo is the most important ceremony in a girl’s life. When girls reach the age of 15, they are taught home management skills and given a lot of food. The idea is to prepare the girl and look after her health before marriage.

The factors discussed above play an essential role in building African culture and also influence translations. Translations should present grammar and culture correctly. Consequently, a professional translation service agency needs to incorporate the language and the norms, customs, and practices of the people to avoid miscommunication. 

How Do These 5 Cultural Aspects Influence Translation?  

Language is the bridge of communication between societies, and it is an essential part of any culture. It makes social interaction effective and has a significant influence on the way people perceive things.

African language translation is challenging as it requires the knowledge of numerous languages and customs for better interpretation for those who don’t come from a similar background. Each ethnic group or tribe has different norms, cultural aspects, and values. It is challenging to translate every word while maintaining a neutral stance in another language unless you utilize a professional African translation company. 

Every language has its own rules, complexity, and structure. For example, an idiomatic expression in one language isn’t necessarily idiomatic in another. Similarly, compound words consist of two or more words joined together, and when you separate these words, their meaning changes. So, for example, the word breakfast, when translated to other languages, doesn’t necessarily comprise the translation of the words “break” and “fast.”

Therefore, it is vital to use the correct translation partner that understands the local culture. If the words associated with traditions, religion, and rituals are not translated clearly, it could hurt the sentiments of the people.

Besides this, some words with a positive connotation have a negative connotation in another language. If a negative comment is attached to a religious term, it could blow the context out of proportion. That is why it is critical to pay attention to the ethics, etiquettes, beliefs, and habits of the people and places where you plan to expand your business.

Deeply held religious and social differences in one culture are entirely neutral in another. Due to this, your African language translation should be accurate to the topic being discussed. Moreover, it isn’t easy to find a meaning equivalent to morals, spiritual values, and symbolism in another language. 

Native translators can deliver efficient and highly accurate translations regardless of language barriers. This is because they are familiar with the cultural aspects and keep them in mind when translating the context. 

Africa is not an easy continent for language translations, with thousands of cultures, languages, and related sensitivities to look out for.

Translation services for the African market also must provide a translation that is neutral and doesn’t cause unfortunate misunderstandings; this will not be a concern if you choose the right African translation provider.