Translating words and phrases from one language to another isn’t as simple as most people seem to think. In fact, there are a couple of misconceptions that are commonly believed about the art of translation. Clearing up these misconceptions and understanding more about how translations work will save a lot of disappointment and improve your odds of obtaining a good translation!
Translations Cannot be Word for Word
There is rarely such a thing as a word for word translation from one language to another. Because of cultural differences and the way languages are structured, it is rare to get an exact translation.
Idioms, for example, are a big stumbling block to translators. An idiom is a phrase that cannot be taken literally and anyone who is not familiar with it in their own language often misunderstands it when they hear or read it. A line of text might refer to “making a mountain out of a molehill” which nearly all English speakers know means making something trivial into a major problem. A speaker of Mandarin would take that idiom literally and it would make very little sense to them. Therefore, the translator would have leave out the idiom completely and substitute the appropriate Mandarin words that convey the correct idea.
Are Second Language Speakers the Best Translators?
People who speak a second language would be a logical choice for a good translator, right? Not necessarily! Although someone may be very proficient in a second language, it is the language they know and not the subtle colloquialisms, idioms and street forms of the language. There is a lot of room for mistakes if a person is well versed in a second language but has no understanding of the culture.
To get an accurate translation true to the context of the content, it is best to engage someone who can translate his or her second language into their native tongue and not vice versa. They understand the culture and common expressions of the language they were born into and thus will be able to accurately convey what the text is actually about. All the nuances and hidden meanings will be clear to them when they translate into their mother tongue but there’s a lot they may miss if they translate from their own language into another’s.
Ideally, a translator is bicultural as well as bilingual. When learning a second language, a person can translate much better when they have actually lived among the other culture and spoken in the common language.
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