Whenever I see a sign in my homeland written in both my mother tongue and in English, I read it in English first. It is not because I am more used to English or to show off my fluency in English, but to see if I can understand (or, at least, not misunderstand) the translation. Only after that, I read it in my mother tongue and check whether or not the translation is appropriate.
I go through this process dutifully, especially thoroughly for signs that may be culturally unique to my people. I know it is better for them to be concise and to the point, but I also know that in many cases, concise and to the point translations make no sense. I find that additional words are often necessary to get the message across.
So, when I went to a Girls’ Fest dolls exhibit today, I was reading the signs describing the exhibits in English first. Girls’ Fest is, I believe, quite unique to my culture, and require a lot of additional explanation for foreigners to understand. But, very unfortunately, the all signs were either word-for-word translations or words in my mother tongue spelled out phonetically. And even more regrettably, none of the panels that wrote about the significant contributions that the girls who owned the dolls went on to make to their family businesses and women’s status were translated.
Now, maybe it was not at all intentional or mean-spirited.
Maybe it was just a matter of cost of translating everything, and then some, just for the enjoyment of a fraction of all visitors who are unfamiliar with our culture.
Maybe for those who wishes to know more, the museum staff would have been happy to give them additional information.
But during the two hours or so I was at the exhibit, I saw no foreigner to our culture stopping a nearby museum staff to ask why there are different groups of dolls or what is the meaning of all the props that are displayed with the dolls (my answer to these questions can be found here… not the full answer, I am sure, but I hope not too concise and to the point). They just looked at the dolls and said “how pretty!” and never got to wonder why they have different prettiness to them.
I know, this probably happens anywhere around the world. I understand that speaking different languages necessarily causes loss in translation, and disclosure can never be absolutely fair across cultures. But if it can be reasonably assumed that additional explanation is needed for some receivers of the information to understand correctly, should not extra efforts be made so that the disclosed materials can be understood better for their true value?
Maybe it will seem not worth the cost to make extra efforts in disclosure.
But maybe, by not making these extra efforts, it is costing precious opportunities to gain fairer evaluation.
An a typical patriarchal Asian nation, we are sometimes viewed as placing more importance on women being pretty but quiet, like dolls… and sadly, I cannot fully deny this view. But I can say, without a doubt, that when these Girls’ Fest dolls are made, usually at birth of each girl, they are made purely out of our wish for their health, prosperity, and happiness – there is no hidden expectation or suggestion for them to grow up pretty but quiet!
I thought I would make this extra effort in disclosure for this tradition of ours to receive fairer evaluation, both for Girls’ Fest and for our culture. I find it to be my privilege, not a duty, as a person with good control over both my mother tongue and English, to exhaust my words for my people to be understood for their true nature… good or bad.