Exploring Land and Sea in Spanish and Chinese

When the California Academy of Sciences sought to make their Giants of Land and Sea exhibition accessible to local visitors, they enlisted Eriksen to translate and typeset the iconic show into San Francisco’s most widely-spoken foreign languages.

a museum with a mission

In the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park sits the California Academy of Sciences, a world-class scientific and educational institution dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on earth. A destination for visitors from throughout the Bay Area and around the globe, the facility consists of an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum housing nearly 46 million scientific specimens.

A mission-driven educational institution, the Academy is focused on expanding environmental literacy. The Academy’s core values illustrate a strong commitment to diversity and accessibility, rooted in the belief that science is for everyone. To cultivate a culturally inclusive and equitable environment, the Academy aims to provide every visitor with the chance to learn and be transformed.

science becomes sensory

With majestic redwood forests, dense fog, and powerful earthquakes, Northern California is unlike anywhere else on the planet. The region’s unique ecosystems are rich in biodiversity, which changes dramatically as the topography shifts from forest to coast to ocean.

In 2018, the Academy opened a major new interactive exhibition, Giants of Land and Sea, to explore California’s biodiversity and the powerful forces that shape its land, forests, oceans, and the creatures that live there. The exhibition presents visitors with a variety of ways to immerse themselves in sights, sounds, and sensations as they explore and learn.

The exhibition’s Redwood Ascent interactive allows visitors to virtually ascend from the forest floor to the treetop canopy. Upon entering the immersive fog simulation room, guests feel the chill and hear the sounds of San Francisco’s cold, soupy fog. Inside the shake house, visitors feel the ground quake as it did in the Bay Area’s infamous 1906 and 1989 earthquakes.

a multilingual approach

Giants of Land and Sea gave the Academy a huge opportunity to offer a unique, innovative learning experience for its visitors. In staying true to its mission, the Academy sought to give every visitor the chance to learn, understand, and explore. This imperative entailed making the exhibit multilingual.

The city of San Francisco is one of the most diverse in the country, with 45 percent of city residents speaking a language other than English at home. Following English, the city’s top three languages are Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino. To embrace its local communities, the Academy decided to translate the entire exhibit into Spanish, Traditional Chinese (the variant most commonly understood by San Francisco’s Chinese-speaking communities), and Filipino.

The Academy came to Eriksen to translate and typeset the wall labels, print graphics, video scripts, and multimedia elements into Spanish and Chinese. The exhibition included specialized terminology, which needed to be translated with consistency, clarity, and accuracy. In addition to translation and typesetting, the Eriksen team was asked to provide Chinese subtitling for 12 exhibition videos.

how we did it

We began by assembling a team of highly qualified translators who were native speakers of the target languages. This carefully selected team had the experience to ensure that the terminology was translated accurately and the materials maintained optimum readability and cultural appropriateness. We developed a glossary to aid the linguists and to ensure that terms such as “ephemeral fog,” “oxygen isotope patterns,” and “domoic acid” would be used consistently across the exhibit’s many components.

The Academy’s in-house experts thoroughly reviewed all the translated materials, including the video subtitles. This fine-tuning provided an additional level of quality control and helped us make sure the museum’s voice and communication standards were upheld.

For materials that required desktop publishing services, our specialists accounted for the increase and decrease in text length that occur with Spanish and Chinese, respectively, and ensured the multilingual text was presented in a polished format that could be displayed proudly next to the original English text.

We appreciated working with the experienced Eriksen team to help guide us through producing our first multilingual exhibition. We’ve been pleased with the quality of work they deliver and our visitors’ response. The inclusion of multilingual content has been very well received by our visitors – enhancing the exhibition experience and visitors’ overall perceptions of the Academy. We look forward to partnering with Eriksen as we develop future multilingual exhibitions.

Tamara Schwarz , Director of Exhibit Development & Strategic Planning, California Academy of Science

inclusive and accessible

Giants of Land and Sea furthered the Academy’s vision of connecting people to science and the natural world by creating an inclusive, accessible environment that serves their regional audience.

Multigenerational families and visitors of all ages have the opportunity to experience science and learning together in the language of their choice. By embracing a multilingual approach, the Academy was able to successfully celebrate their multicultural region—one of the most linguistically diverse in the country—and engage local communities.