How Disney uses translation to create a sense of place

On a recent trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, I noticed that most of the signage in the Asia area of the park was translated. However, some signs were left in English, with their original lexicon left intact. Disney is famous for thinking of every last detail in its parks but I was amazed at how language helps create a sense of place. My favorite is a sign warning visitors that there are tigers ahead. The use of “apprehend” instead of “notice” or “be aware” creates an awkwardly translated English sign. As you can imagine, the scenery along with the translated signage helps to transport visitors from Orlando to Nepal!

We typically think of amusement parks or museums translating their maps or directories for non-English speaking visitors. The translated materials are typically available at the entrance to each park and at all guest services locations. Disney is also fortunate to have employees from many other countries as part of its college program. If you look closely, each cast member’s (employee’s) name tag lists their country of origin and the languages that they speak.

Disney also offers a service called Ears to the World which is for guests with limited English proficiency. The service provides a complimentary wireless headset with a translated narration that is synchronized to specific attractions. This is available in 6 languages for over 20 attractions throughout the theme parks.

Disney uses translation and language to create a sense of place. They do a masterful job of making guests feel like they are traveling to exotic lands. This is very evident in the Asia area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom where the signage and architecture transport the visitor to the base camp towns of Mt. Everest. Here are a few examples including advertising for Coca-Cola and a local bazaar.

Functional signage for some of the attractions is also translated or at least written in an Indic Style script to guide guests through the park in an authentic manner.

Take a look at our post on “Translation and voice-over Hollywood style” for more examples of language in entertainment. The post includes a video showing how “Let it Go”, the famous song from the hit movie Frozen, was translated and sung in 25 languages.