There has been a long held view that true fluency in a second language isn’t just about stringing together groups of words, either orally or on paper, but learning and understanding the key components of the culture of the people who use the language too. This is seen as a vital step towards complete fluency.
Understanding culture puts a person a step ahead towards full integration into both the culture and language. Overall a full definition of a culture is where a group has interwoven its behaviour and language so that each can’t do without the other in order to form a unique group. It enables it to be differentiated from other groups. The people who see themselves as part of a distinct culture normally interpret the meaning of artefacts, symbols and behaviour the same. Language learning can’t be separated from understanding culture.
If you are writing an article or discussing the culture of a country you will use the words and concepts that are specifically linked to that culture. For example, on the topic of food, some cultures are known for specific dishes, such as the Greeks for feta cheese and olives, or the French for garlic and snails.
Knowledge of a culture helps to ensure that the most appropriate language is used when discussing elements of the culture. When it comes to musical instruments, bagpipes are associated with Scotland and nowhere else. The didgeridoo is an instrument used just in Australia. This sort of cultural knowledge speeds up integration of a person who is not normally part of the culture so that they no longer appear as an outsider. Using the right cultural references puts the language into the right context.
Qualities of a Good Translator
Any translator will be successful if he or she has bothered to take the time to learn what makes a specific culture unique. The way colloquialisms and idioms are used in a culture’s language must be embedded in the translator’s mind and be used without too much thought being attached. Humour and the way a culture expresses anger and sadness are is important too and come out in different ways depending on the culture. Food, dress, architecture and a country’s sports preferences contribute to making up a unique culture. These are the sorts of things a good translator will know a lot about if they have a full understanding of their targeted language.