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Limiting yourself to only European markets means missing out on a whole host of business opportunities: a larger customer base, global growth and a more reputable image. Some companies make the mistake of using only European languages, if they even bother to publish content in a language other than English, yet translating to and from non-European languages opens you up to ever-growing markets in the Middle East, Russia, China, and other Asian countries.

With the advent of social media and other technological developments, translating to other languages has become even more profitable, as it makes it easier to create meaningful connections on a global scale. To make the most of this, however, it is important to consider professional translation to and from non-Latin script languages, since the differences both in culture and in script create an added level of complexity to that already present in translation.

Languages that use non-Latin alphabets

There are a number of languages which make use of a non-Latin script. The Arabic language is one example. Apart from the different characters, a major difference is that standard Arabic is written from right to left. Arabic is a very important language in modern markets and is spoken by over 175 million people across many countries in the world.

The Greek language – a European language that doesn’t use Latin script – uses one of the oldest alphabets in human history, stemming from the Phoenician alphabet. Although it is not as widespread as Arabic, it is nonetheless spoken by over 13 million people. From the classical Greek script came the Cyrillic script, which is used by eight Slavic languages (such as Russian) and eleven non-Slavic languages (such as Mongolian). The Russian language alone is spoken by 145 million people around the globe.

A few languages don’t use an alphabet altogether – including Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Traditional Chinese – or Mandarin – uses thousands of variations of glyphs instead. Chinese is spoken by over 845 million people in the world, and is one of the most important business languages in the modern day. The script used in the Korean languages – the Hangul script, originates from the Chinese Hanja script. Similarly, the Japanese language utilizes three scripts, each used for a different purpose – Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana.

Translation vs Transliteration

When translating one European language to another, we often encounter phrases or concepts which cannot be directly translated. Usually, these words are left alone, as there is no better way to express their meaning. However, when it comes to non-Latin script, words cannot simply be left as they are, since this would render them unreadable to those who aren’t versed in that particular script. Here, we make use of transliteration – a process of converting one script to another which is recognisable to the reader, without an attempt at translating meaning.

This is very often used in literary texts, as well as in translated speeches. Well-known transliteration systems such as Pinyin, Wade-Giles and Yale, which are used to render Chinese ideograms into their phonetic equivalents for speakers of Latin-based languages, help translators to maintain consistent transliteration across documents.

That being said, one must choose the appropriate system for transliterating. For instance, when transliterating from non-Latin to a Latin script, we make use of romanticization – the most common term associated with transliteration. But there is actually more to it than that,  since very often transliterating from a non-Latin script to a different non-Latin script is necessary. In the case of translating Chinese to Russian, for example, we use the method of cyrillization, where we match the sounds of Chinese characters to equivalent letters in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Translating for localisation purposes

There are a number of languages written quite differently than European ones, all of which are important for the business world. Since they don’t use a Latin alphabet or, in some cases, no alphabet at all, professional translation is required so as not to reflect carelessness (think badly translated Chinese trademarks we see everywhere).

Having translation which is correct, clear and thoughtful of your target audience and potential partners – not text that is irresponsibly translated by a machine – will improve the credibility and reputation of your business while building important relationships worldwide.

Finding a balance between accuracy and clarity

Being aware of the various implications of translating in an accurate manner while translating non-European languages is one of our top priorities. Sometimes, even when words are translated in the most accurate and literal way possible, they do not communicate the sentiment of the words in quite the same way. In the case of trademarks especially, some are better left transliterated.

Only professional translators can be aware of the different nuances in different languages – a machine will not pick up on these details. In some cases, translators also need to be sensitive to cultural differences. In marketing, for example, the image associated with the word ‘dragon’ is a very positive one in the China, but often a negative one in some Western countries. The same holds for words with double meanings in certain languages, which would create misunderstanding, if not offence, if translated accurately.