Food for thought
With September officially here, I am challenging you to take a trip down memory lane that time you were walking around town on a Greek island, in high heat, thirsty and hungry looking for something to eat and some rest.
I bet the menu outside the restaurant you ended up choosing was in English and not just in the local language, that you probably don’t speak.
So how was it? Not the food, the menu translation. Did it make sense or did you have to “translate” everything yourself?
There’s no doubt it’s important to have a translated menu at a restaurant, as you want to be able to understand the dishes and drinks you’re about to order and eat.
However, if you think that translating a menu is an easy task just because the translator has to deal with merely a few pages, or just a few words then, you should think twice!
Translating a menu is a super challenging job and several factors could make a translator's life harder in their attempt to create a multilingual menu that makes sense and appeals. Let's have a look at some of them:
We all know that the food culture of a country is a world of its own! Therefore, translating a menu requires a wide understanding of the food culture of a specific country and not simply a perfect understanding of the source and target languages. A professional translator devotes a considerable amount of time to researching the gastronomy and culture of a country taking always into account the audience addressed.
Think of all the food varieties too. It could be Japanese, Mexican, Greek, French, Asian fusion, Peruvian and more. We’re not only translating Greek taverna food. We could be dealing with Greek into English translation of Mexican dishes for instance.
Sometimes, certain dishes or ingredients of a specific food culture might be rare or even non-existent in the language into which the menu has to be translated. In this case, the translator has to carefully decide how to describe these dishes or ingredients and avoid oversimplifying the menu. Let's not forget that there are so many people who cannot consume certain ingredients due to allergies, religious reasons, or even diets, which makes the importance of correctly translating a menu even more critical.
In certain cases, the translator has to take the decision NOT to translate specific dishes or ingredients. Several dishes or ingredients are known in the target market(s) by their common name (e.g. Crème Fraîche or Quiche Lorraine) and a translation of such terms can likely cause unnecessary confusion. More specifically, when translating into Greek we have to decide if we leave this kind of terms in English letters or if we write them in Greek, using Greek letters by transferring the way they sound in French for example.
We must also take into account if we use British or American variants (zucchini vs courgette, aubergine vs eggplant) and God knows what the difference is because prawn and shrimp! (Well, we do ;) )
And just to add to our little headache, we have to also look into how we deal with numbers, figures and currencies. Do we put commas, periods, spaces before or after the currencies?
But most importantly, we are tasked with the responsibility of reflecting the true essence of dishes, their ingredients and flavors in ways that respect the chef and help the client know what to expect.
A carefully translated menu can make or break a restaurant business. Added value comes when the translator picks up on issues such as inconsistencies in the original menu, typos, wrong or missing ingredients, items in the wrong sections. Furthermore, a good translator may also provide a style guide listing their choices during the translation task to enhance consistent, high-quality content going forward.
So, it’s never about the words or the food. It’s about creating an easy-to-read and understandable menu that leaves you relaxed and excited to experience the local gastronomy.
Vasiliki is a translator, interpreter, transcreator, blogger, consultant and director of Greek to Me Translations Ltd. She works with English, Greek and French herself and has a team of trusted colleagues who can cover other languages. The offered language services serve mainly the legal, creative, and psychometrics industries.
Vasiliki is a Chartered Linguist, member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and Panhellenic Association of Greek Translators (PEM). She is registered with the Greek Embassy in the United Kingdom as a certified translator and interpreter. She holds a BA in English Language and Linguistics and Masters in Business Translation and Interpreting. She is a Member of Council to CIOL, a University Lecturer in Languages (Translation) at School of Business and Law at London Metropolitan University, a public speaker and writer for industry magazines.
Her mission is to help organisations and individuals achieve their goals through the power of words. Through mentoring, Vasiliki helps aspiring or young translators to overcome self-limiting beliefs, build a business mindset and achieve their highest potential.