Despite the speed of an “instant” online translation, creating high-quality translations is not as easy as you might think. In our interconnected world, translation is crucial for so many reasons. We rely on expert human translators to correctly understand the subtleties of statements political leaders make, the complexities of biopharmaceutical procedures, the exact terms of legal contracts, and so much more. Here are three of the biggest reasons why translating is much more challenging than you might imagine.

Word For Word Is Not Enough

The rules and nuances of language are often lost in a literal translation.

Anyone that has struggled to read through a Google translation is already painfully aware of what can happen when a machine translates a webpage word for word. The rules and nuances of language are often lost in a literal translation. The goal of high-quality translation is not simply to take words in one language and give the direct equivalent in another. Instead, it focuses on bringing the ideas from one language into another and making sure they are understood as intended in the other language. This process requires someone that is not just linguistically fluent, but often culturally fluent as well.

Language Is Also Culture

Language and culture coexist and intermingle. One does not exist without the other, and therefore, some translations, if taken literally, will be meaningless to another reader without the proper cultural context. Hara-kiri, for example, is a famous aspect of Japanese culture that can only be roughly explained as a “ritual/honor suicide” but grossly under-explains the complexities and nuance of this facet of Japanese culture.

Disney-esque is a term sometimes used in North American culture to describe anything that resembles a fairy tale, is wholesome and simple or is more suited for children. However, to understand this term, someone would have to be familiar with Walt Disney feature films, toys, and other cultural artifacts in order for the true import of the word to sink in.

Sometimes There Is No Direct Translation

While some words and concepts are easy to translate, like a simple conversion from the English word dog to the French word chien, many times there is no direct equivalent in the language into which you are translating. For example, Schadenfreude is a very specific emotional state, but there’s no actual word for it in English, so we have to make do with describing it as “taking happiness or amusement in the suffering of others,” whereas the Germans have summed it up in one word.

On the other hand, the expression “that’s the best thing since sliced bread” would not have the same impact if translated literally into another language. In English, it is used to describe something that is a good invention or innovation. In places where sliced bread is less common, this would be especially confusing when literally translated.

Simply turning one word into its parallel for another language may sometimes get the job done when you need a general idea of what something means. However, for content that needs to be accurately understood in another language, it takes far more understanding, experience, and knowledge to make sure a complex idea is properly communicated the way it was intended. Connect with us to see how we can help you and your business say exactly what you mean in another language.

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