The Tricks to Translating Road Signs

As an ever increasing number of people find their way around the world, more and more will learn to drive in one country then go on to operate a motor vehicle in several other places throughout their lives. While it may seem that using a car is going to essentially be the same everywhere, driving in another country is more complicated than one might think. Not only is it customary in some countries to drive one side of the road vs. the other, road signs also present a unique challenge for foreign drives.

Verbal Translations vs. Visual Translations

Visual translations are not the same as verbal or written. When you translate words there is a fixed “code” that’s adhered to at all times. This code is not as consistent nor as clear with visual translations. There are many factors that go into the meaning of a visual message like those being used on road signs. As a result they’re much more difficult to translate accurately than verbal or written content.

One of the factors that must be considered with visual translations is the cultural message of the colors used. For example, the color red is often used as a warning sign in many western cultures making it ideal for use with traffic signs. In South Africa however red signifies mourning and in many eastern cultures red is worn by brides. Consider then for a moment what an individual from these countries might think of a the “Stop” or “Wrong Way” signs used in the United States.

Symbols are also a factor when translating road signs. To save space this type of signage generally uses few if any words and relies on symbols to convey the message. This is ideal for motorists driving by at high speeds who inherently grasp the meaning of the traffic sign, but to drivers from another country it can become very confusing.

How to Translate Road Signs While Driving

Although road signs can be difficult to translate while driving and can even present a hazard, people aren’t going to stop traveling. So what can be done? First and foremost educate yourself before you even leave home. This way, when you’re actually operating a moving vehicle in a foreign country you’ll have a better idea of what you’re seeing on those road signs whizzing by.

If you’re still having problems while you’re on the road look for some type of universal symbolism. Although there are many differences when it comes to road sign translations, the push is to be more consistent in the symbols and colors used for traffic signals and signage around the globe.

Look at the two signs posted here. They’re from two different countries and they show animals many foreigners aren’t familiar with, yet you can still fairly reliably figure that each road sign is warning you about large animals along the road. In addition to these signs used in Australia and Africa there are already signs like this being used in the United States and other western countries as well; the only difference being the animal pictured.

While some cultural differences will always get in the way and make complete global continuity of traffic signs nearly impossible the move toward some type of consistency will help motorists translate road signs more easily making everyone on the road safer. Whether you need to translate road signs or any other type of content, ITC Global Translations can help. We’ve got the resources required to provide accurate translations that will allow you to communicate effectively in any medium across the globe. Visit our website today to learn more about how ITC Global Translations can work with you on your translation project.

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