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June 6, 2019 |

Are You Prepared for Translating Emojis? Top Tips for Translators  

Emojis (or emoticons) look fun and straightforward, but are they as universal as most people believe? Is a smiley face or thumbs up appropriate for all audiences, regardless of their geographical location or the language they speak? Or is translating emojis necessary to keep the original meaning of a text?

As a translator, you already know how hard it is to overcome cultural barriers, especially when the source and target languages are very different. In this light, translating emojis can be a challenge even for the most skilled linguists.

Initially designed for mobile devices only, emojis are now all over the internet. They express so many different emotions that it’s hard to keep up with their correct meaning. If you translate and localize social media messages, web content, or apps, you’ll have to handle emojis more than once.

And translating emojis can be hard. Every social media or app has special characters, which means that some emojis aren’t even available on all platforms and devices. So, how do you translate and localize emojis the right way?

Here are some useful tips for translating emojis for international audiences.  

1. Translating Emojis Is Easier With an Emoji Glossary

You may need to carry out some social media research and see what emojis locals use to express their feelings in different circumstances.

Besides happy faces and hearts, there are multiple ways to use emojis in your content, depending on each target language. One study revealed that each population has its preferences when using symbols on social media.  

Russians are the most romantic and use emojis, such as heart eyes, couples with hearts, and kisses. However, French speakers use four times more hearts than any other nation! In Arabian countries, users prefer messages that include plants and flowers, whereas Canadians seem to engage more with messages that include money emojis. Americans aren’t afraid of using LGBT emojis, including same-sex couples and rainbows.

To increase productivity, you should treat emojis like a dialect. Creating an emoji glossary for each language should help you translate them accurately and in less time.

2. Don’t Make Assumptions When Translating Emojis

Even though emojis are everywhere, it’s not always easy to guess the correct meaning of them. As long as you use these symbols for organizing a dinner with friends on WhatsApp, ambiguity won’t get you into trouble. On the other hand, when translating emojis, you should make sure you know the meaning of every icon used to enrich the content.  

Luckily, you can use resources like Emojipedia or Emoji Meanings to learn more about how every character should be used. These sites provide you with valuable insights on what emotion or situation each emoji illustrates.

However, some symbols can have multiple meanings, and they could be easily misconstrued. If you don’t understand the purpose of an emoji within the context, always check with your client the intent of the communication. This way, your translation will be more accurate, and you’ll keep the meaning of the original message intact.

3. Images Alone Can’t Always Describe Situations

Emojis are a non-verbal language feature that adds emotional value to any translated content when used wisely. For many brands and multinational organizations, these little icons can be an effective way to form an emotional connection with local audiences.

However, the line between generating emotions and creating confusion can sometimes become blurry.

In 2015, for example, Chevy wrote an entire press release using emojis to announce their 2016 Chevrolet Cruze. Four years later, communication experts still can’t decide whether the message had any value for the customers!

The company decoded the message for its fans soon after the release as part of the launch campaign. Too many emojis didn’t facilitate the communication remained.

Of course, most brands go for lighter uses of emojis in their content. However, if the source content uses emojis that don’t make sense to foreigners, remove or substitute them. Depending on your target audience, fewer emojis may increase the efficiency of the message. Discuss the implications of translating emojis with your client and adapt the content to the new public, to increase the power of the message.

4. The Same Emoji Can Have Multiple Meanings

Communicating through icons sounds efficient and straightforward, but things can get complicated quickly. People from diverse cultures associate emotions with different concepts. Think about universal feelings, like anger, fear, or love. The way people react and relate to them is dictated by social norms that vary with every language and culture.

Sometimes emojis can send different meanings, even in the same culture. A group of researchers discovered that people often give various interpretations of the same emoji. This is due to cultural background, as well as the different way in which gadgets show these icons.

The study revealed that differences occur even in the most used emojis. For example, people see the “smiling face with an open mouth and tightly closed eyes” both negative and positive.  

This is due to how people relate to faces and how they express emotions. At the same time, emojis are different on iOS and Android. What you write on your smartphone can easily be seen differently by a user with another type of mobile device. This also contributes to creating multiple perceptions of the same icon.

5. Context Has a Key Role in Translating Emojis

Emojis were meant to create a universal language that anyone could understand easily. But, most people never learn the meaning behind emojis. In most cases, they just give them the sense they think is appropriate, depending on the context.

So, when translating emojis, you need to figure out the best way to deal with their meaning based on the target audience. The more accurate the translation of the whole text, the higher the chances of people understanding why emojis were used in the first place.

When the emojis are aligned with the rest of the text, they will enhance the content and generate higher engagement.

The Takeaway

Emojis are too popular to keep out of marketing content. However, misusing them can influence the communication between your clients and their clients. So, if your client uses them, be prepared to ask questions to deliver accurate translations.

Start with learning what emojis are popular in the target language and in what context locals use them. Before translating emojis, make sure you understand their purpose in the original content. This way, you can adapt the translated message and include the right emojis to generate engagement.