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A-Z of Translation – the letter L:

For the letter L, we’ve chosen a very practical issue:

Letters – If one broadens the definition to include e-mails, most of us deal with letters pretty much every day of our working lives. In the context of translation, they illustrate how difficult it is to overcome ingrained ways of doing things and to accept that different languages and cultures are just that, i.e. different.

And precisely because the way we write letters and e-mails is so ingrained, it’s particularly important to ensure that a translation respects the conventions of the target-language culture. Otherwise, you risk looking clumsy, ill-informed or downright rude. Sensitivities around gender and an often higher degree of formality in other languages pose an additional challenge – the wrong salutation can cause real offence. Given the importance of first impressions, getting things right in a letter or e-mail should be a priority.

A particular hazard when translating from English into many other languages is allowing for both male and female recipients in mail-merge scenarios. We are so used to the fact that “Dear” suits every recipient that it's easy to overlook the gendered forms in other languages, potentially ending up with a mis-match of masculine and feminine words.

For the sake of brevity, we won’t even go into the finer points of dealing with titles and distinctions in letters or e-mails – a subject big enough for a blog post of its own. Most of us are annoyed when other people get our names wrong; the same applies to mangling the form of address, which is often subject to strict rules and conventions.

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