© / Shantell

Along with vocabulary and syntax, every language has a cultural imprint. I remember being at a press dinner where my Francophone counterparts were doubled over with laughter at a French title for an enRoute story that, to be honest, had gone right over my head. It involved a frisky innuendo that wouldn’t have worked in the original, but it was patently effective for its audience.

When you work on a bicultural magazine, the second-language isn’t another version: it’s a unique magazine that’s being delivered to its own audience. Call it the difference between translation and adaptation. If you think that readers can be duped by a poor translation into believing that a product has been created for them, then you are shortchanging them. But a reader who realizes that you’ve invested creatively in making the magazine as worthwhile for them as the first-language audience will reward you with respect, which means more time spent with the product. And a heck of a lot of goodwill. The depth of the engagement of a satisfied reader is good for your advertisers as well.

A good adaptation literally speaks to its readers in their own language: sometimes it’s poetic, sometimes it cracks jokes, sometimes it brings in an image or an example that wildly diverges from the original copy. So while an adaptation may follow the same route as the first-language story, it creates its own footprint along the way.

The trick, of course, is staying on brand with two distinct magazines, in two languages, that will necessarily “read” differently– all within the same covers. The English version of Air Canada’s enRoute tends to play fast and loose with language, coining words when we need to touch on something new in the cultural ether; French has a lexical canon that is, for the most part, untouchable. English is also at times elliptical, whereas French is incredibly precise. (So much so that it takes about 10% more words to say the same thing; our French font was designed to accommodate this.)

But there’s an easy answer to this challenge: give your staff incredible freedom in the translation process. Realize that they are not merely doing a technical translation; they are building out a new story. And sometimes, that story might have a wholly different story to tell.