Translation musings: finding the right words

Sep 11, 2014 | Translation

Orange translate buttonAs I mention frequently in these blogs, we are rather a multi-cultural office – with French, German, Hungarian, Portuguese and Chinese regularly spoken. And however good our multi-cultural staff are at speaking English (and they are VERY good, believe me!) sometimes they are forced to seek the advice of one of the humble native-English speakers (that would be me!). This often leads to head scratching, googling and much discussion as we contemplate the best translation of a particular word or phrase.

Some of the hardest linguistic decisions can be around the non-standard texts. For instance, we are currently translating childrens’ fairy tales and some of the language used in the stories can be difficult to put into another language’s words. The source text may refer to a well-known idiom or phrase of that language or country, which does not necessarily have an equivalent in the target language. And translating word for word can produce at best hilarious but meaningless drivel and at worse something rather derogative or even offensive. One famous example of this is the lovely, cuddly Jolly Green Giant which, when translated into Arabic, is widely reported to turn into an Intimidating Green Ogre. Not so likely to tempt you into buying tinned sweetcorn!

It is important that your translator, or transcreator (transcreation is a mix of translation and creation and often used in creative translation, such as slogans), is a native speaker of your target language and that they are aware of the cultural differences between the source and target languages and countries.

Image credit: Illia Uriadnikov @