Sometimes the simplest word is the hardest to adapt

3 comments Written on August 14th, 2009 by
Categories: The Netherlands
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In the 60s, there was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And what an experience it was too! The listener was immersed in the overwhelming guitar sounds of the unrivalled guitar hero of the psychedelic era.

A few years ago, the marketing heads decided that products should no longer be bought to complement the life of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘you’ or even ‘we’. No, the promise was the ‘experience’ that using the product would entail – and the whole marketing concept was wrapped around this emotional theme.

When adapting American copy into Dutch, I am often confronted with the word ‘experience’ when reading about toilet cleaning, travel agencies, car rental, insurance policies and so on (what we’re still waiting for is the ultimate cremation experience!).  Many end lines contain the e-word and of course our American clients want to see it appear in the international localisations.

However, the ‘experience concept’ rarely fits in with the Dutch way of writing, where calculation and proven quality often prevail over emotion. The words that are used in Dutch to describe ‘experience’ in the immersing, all-absorbing sense of the word are ‘belevenis’, ‘beleving’ and ‘ervaring’, which all sound contrived in Dutch marketing lingo. When you hear them, you automatically know that they have been translated from English.

As a writer, my task is to find a way out of the obvious and use other words with an emotional appeal that better suits the character of our fellow countrymen. And this is an experience of a different kind all together.

Wouter from Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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3 comments “Sometimes the simplest word is the hardest to adapt”

I have a very similar EXPERIENCE with the word ‘PERFORMANCE’. The handy word with no Polish equivalent is often a cause of many sleepless nights and a not-so-good-PERFORMANCE.
Best of luck in finding the right words!

The same thing about Russian!
These three words often become a nightmare.
Simple CTA’s like ‘Enjoy/experience XXX!’ are especially difficult: they sound really stupid when translated literally, but can easily lose their energy when you build a ‘heavier’ phrase. So adapting them is like walking the tightrope, you need perfect balance.

‘Experience’ as a noun simply has no equivalent in Russian – I mean a single word that reflects everything that ‘experience’ contains.

The same thing about ‘performance’ – for example, if we mean cars, you can say either ‘power’ (which is less than ‘performance’) or ‘technical specifications’ (which is really awkward in ad copy or in a headline).

Hi there! In slogans, in Italian I often use “vivi”, (imperative of “live”), whereas in more plain copy I may use, for example for “user experience”, the rather serious but effective “fruizione”. Not sure how this applies to Dutch, Polish or Russian though!

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