Adaptation is more than translation

Preserving our cultural heritage

22 / 09 / 2021
adaptation team
Cobus Slabber and Bontle Mafojane

What exactly is adaptation and what does it take to be able to ensure quality adaptation, relevant to the audience? We asked two of our team members to share their insights.

Cobus Slabber, the Localisation Coordinator at Content Lab, describes adaptation as the act of taking a finished product, in this case, a piece of media, and making changes to it, based on the requirements of the client. It may involve the translation and/or rewriting of a script, called script adaptation. Through the process of adaptation, a foreign soapy for instance can be turned into a television programme specifically tailored to entertain a South African audience.

According to Cobus, besides translation, adaptation could include adding a joke to enhance what was previously a boring scene or a bland character or changing the background music in an advert to give it a local flavour.

We want the finished product to really reflect the audience’s culture, so we often use our everyday life and human interactions as inspiration.

“Spending time with different types of South Africans allows me to better adapt foreign content to various local audiences,” says Cobus. “And I always take an opportunity to make someone laugh – whether in my everyday life or in my work – after all, it’s a large part of our culture.”

Bontle Mafojane, Lead Creative Editor, agrees, and points out that adaptation is a way of preserving our cultural heritage.

In a society that is such a melting pot of cultures and traditions, it’s important that we have a medium that respects and preserves our languages, and our cultural nuances.

“At the same time, quality adaptation helps people to understand one another better.”

According to Bontle, there are a few key elements to keep in mind when approaching a script for adaptation:

  • Consider the genre of the story.
  • What type of show is it and who are the characters?
  • Are they young or old?
  • Are they good or evil – or perhaps somewhere in between?
  • What time period does the show take place in?

All these factors play an important role in setting the tone and determining the word choices when translating a script and structuring the dialogue between characters.

Cobus and Bontle’s advice to up and coming script adapters:

Cobus: To become really good, you must be excited by the prospect of editing and potentially rewriting someone else’s script to really connect with the local audience.

Bontle: It’s important that you watch a lot of television and read a ton of books – with a critical eye (and ear)!

If you’d like some advice on adaptation for your project, chat to the leading experts in our localisation facility in South Africa. We are happy to help.

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