Got Milk Campaign Lost in Translation

US - The “Got Milk?” campaign slogan translates into something much different in Spanish. To be successful on the world stage, agricultural business managers and college students need to know this and the language of global markets, says a University of Georgia international expert.
calendar icon 24 April 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

“Got Milk?” in Spanish is “¿Tienes Leche?” It means “Are you lactating?” said Maria Navarro, an assistant professor with UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

This is certainly not the question the advertising campaign intends to ask, Navarro recently told a special class for CAES students and alumni. For Spanish-speaking audiences, the phrase was switched to one that translates “Have you given them milk today?”

Simply knowing how something translates and being willing to learn can make a big difference in the success of business today, she said, especially in export markets.

According to a 2004 business magazine article, Navarro said, 58 percent of U.S. businesses earnings growth came from overseas, and 30 percent of corporations surveyed felt opportunities were missed overseas due to insufficient personnel with international skills.

“Unless we can communicate with people,” she said, “we’re not going to be able to work with them.”

Bill Sell, the former UGA Cooperative Extension head for agronomy, saw firsthand the dangers of applying American customs to work he did in Latin America.

“Our first image was to apply our customs and cultural habits,” he said. “It was our strong tendency to lay our trends and customs on them without understanding where they were coming from.”

The current food crisis and riots in Haiti were discussed. According to an Associated Press report, some Haitians now are making, selling and eating dirt cookies to fill their stomachs. Without understanding Haitian culture and economy, the international community may solve the current food problem but create another, Navarro said.

“In many situations, if we just send food, we’re displacing local producers,” she said. “If we send tractors, we’re changing their systems and forcing them into an oil-based cycle.”

Education is the word, but teaching is not the answer alone. The way to improve America’s international relations and export markets is to approach opportunities with the idea that, “We’re going to work on something together,” said Navarro, who teaches CAES students about international agriculture and world hunger.

“Students who go abroad learn to put things together better, to connect things better,” she said. “They learn to link technical knowledge with people knowledge.”

More than ever, she said, it is important for students who are looking for jobs to know how to effectively get their messages across to a culture other than their own. If they don’t, they could end up saying something they didn’t mean. Or, end up with a business deal they didn’t want.

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