Cultural competency is knowing the appropriate words for the occasion, topic, audience, or target group in a given culture under given circumstances. It derives its approach from cognitive psychology, linguistics, and anthropology.

Unfamiliarity with this concepts typically results mistranslations as the following examples vividly illustrate:

  • Clairol launched a curling iron called “Mist Stick” in Germany even though “mist” is German slang for “manure.”
  • Kellogg renamed its “Bran Buds” in Sweden, since the words roughly mean “burned farmer.”
  • KFC made Chinese consumers a bit apprehensive when “finger licking good” was translated as “eat your fingers off.”
  • Pepsi’s slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” was debuted in China as “Pepsi Brings You Back from the Grave.”

In every language, symbolism, metaphors, images, and idioms are often used as short formula for experiences, emotions, or bits of communication that would otherwise require lengthy explanations. However, these verbal elements frequently do not have a direct translation in other languages.


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