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Lost in (Olympic) Translation


Last updated on May 5th, 2021 at 03:08 pm

After reading Sophie Pitman’s blog post about the 2012 London Olympics’ Opening Ceremony, I can’t help but wonder: What went wrong (and what happened to Elton John)? On her post she explains how amazed she was after receiving many emails from her American friends who were totally lost by some elements of the ceremony. Maybe this is the reason why China decided four years ago to give the world a pyrotechnic show instead of one filled with historical references. 

The Cultural Gap that could’ve been Bridged.  

Although the United States and the United Kingdom share the English language, they do not share the same historical evolution, which creates a significant cultural gap. For this reason and, as Pitman points out, NBC should have had a British commentator present to explain the elements that might have seemed obscure to the American audience. Obscure as the giant baby born before our own eyes; maybe some of us did not take advanced English Literature and did not read Paradise Lost (if you read John Milton you realize that Cruella De Vil and Lord Voldemort were completely appropriate).  What surprised me the most was that her friends did not recognize Kenneth Branagh! Most of us have  read and watched countless versions of Shakespeare’s plays; I am sure the younger generations recognized him as Professor Lockhart from Harry Potter. 

The Perfect Event for Localization

The Opening Ceremony was not the occasion to globalize but the perfect one to localize; after all the whole idea was to highlight what is intrinsically British, the good and the bad (the commemoration of the War to End All Wars was very moving) but also, a local perspective would have helped audiences to understand what was happening.

Sports inspire universal values: Unity, Friendship, Equality, Patriotism and, maybe, this is where the Ceremony failed. Maybe they were too patriotic; maybe they failed at conveying a more global message that not only gave the world an in-depth vision of the United Kingdom but made the world feel welcome and part of it. 

Fortunately, we at JR Language, know the difference between globalization and localization, and can help in deciding which is best for each situation so that our clients can benefit from it and prevent their copy from getting lost in translation.

Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela and has a BS in computer engineering. As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. 20 Years of experience in marketing Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.