Translating Jokes – Why Experienced Translators Are a Must When it Comes to Humor

Given the fact that the smile is considered the “Universal Greeting” you’d think translating jokes would be fairly simple. That’s not the case though. Humor can actually be quite difficult to translate from one language to another, and, as a result, an experienced translator is essential in order for a joke to translate well and reach your audience as intended.

Jokes are often funny because of an inside understanding an outsider may not get; and once you have to explain a joke, it’s over. This makes translating jokes uniquely difficult compared with other types of content. In fact, there is a famous story of Jimmy Carter giving a speech in Japan that included a joke that received so much laughter from the audience he questioned his interpreter.

Here is the story as told by President Carter via the Carter Center

“I remembered going through China and Japan in 1981, soon after I left the White House. At that time I was asked to make a speech at a small college near Osaka. When I got to this little college, everybody was so nervous, it made me nervous. So, I got up to make a speech, and I thought I would put the Japanese at ease-the students and professors and their parents-by telling a joke. It takes so long to translate English into Japanese that I didn’t choose my funniest joke–I just chose my shortest joke. So I told my joke, and then the interpreter gave it and the audience collapsed in laughter. It was the best response I have ever had to a joke in my life.

I couldn’t wait for the speech to be over to get to the green room and ask the interpreter, ‘How did you tell my joke?’ He was very evasive. But I persisted, and finally he ducked his head and said, “I told the audience, ‘President Carter told a funny story. Everyone must laugh.’ ” So there are some advantages in having been president.”

Not many translators employ this tactic when translating jokes, but, this story clearly illustrates the point of just how difficult bringing humor from one language to another can be.

Translating Jokes Takes Finesse and Skill

Translating any type of content takes skill for sure, but, given the special structure of jokes, translating humor takes a special finesse that only someone with experience in translation and localization can deliver.

Translating any type of content takes skill for sure, but, given the special structure of jokes, translating humor takes a special finesse that only someone with experience in translation and localization can deliver. When translating humor it’s important to use the best words and phrasing possible so as little of the joke is lost during the process as possible. This is where translation really becomes an art form and only an individual with experience in the language and culture you’re sharing your humor with can be sure your joke is received with genuine laughter once it’s translated.

Localization Services Keep Things Funny

When translating jokes it’s also important to work with a translator who is an expert in the culture of the area where you’re sharing your content. Unfortunately, there are far too many stories of someone sharing a joke in another language only to find out later that the content of the joke was appallingly inappropriate for the audience culturally. Luckily, experienced translators living in the local area can help you avoid these problems with their intimate, up to date knowledge of cultural norms. This way you can be sure not only your words are translating correctly, but your jokes are culturally appropriate as well.

As you can see, translating jokes takes a special hand that only an experienced translator can offer. If you’re ready to have the best network of translators and localization experts translate your content, contact ITC Global Translations today. We work with over 2,500 specialist translators who are prepared to translate and localize any type of content, including jokes, with a level of quality and experience that will ensure your words are seamlessly translated so they’re well received by your audience regardless of how many languages are spoken among you.

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