Challenges of Translation

Challenges of Translation

Translation is more than just transporting words or sentences from one language to another. It demands a deep understanding of both grammar and culture as well as involves the translation of feelings, emotions and thoughts. Translators need to know the rules of a language as well as the habits of the people who speak it. Can one translate all the sentiments attached to the text, bridge the cultural differences and overcome language barriers? Even if a translator is capable of conveying the message, he or she may still lack the ability to transform the music, rhythm or deeper meaning of certain words and expressions. In addition, even for the most experienced professionals, confusion and frustration are familiar feelings.

Like any other profession, translation is a job where even experts have to face many common challenges. Translators are trained individuals who understand the linguistic nuances required whenever they are doing translation work and know that there is no room for error. Still, each translation job is unique, thus challenges are ever-present in the job.

Some of the most common challenges of translation include:

  1. Language Structure

Every language sits inside a defined structure with its own agreed upon rules. The complexity and singularity of this framework directly correlates to the difficulty of translation.

A simple sentence in English has a subject, verb, and object. In some languages, the order is different. In other languages such as Spanish, the subject pronoun is written as part of the verb, which then determines the gender of the subject.

  1. Idioms and Sarcasm

Idiomatic expressions explain something by way of unique examples or figures of speech. And most importantly, the meaning of these peculiar phrases cannot be predicted by the literal definitions of the words it contains. Many linguistic professionals insist that idioms are the most difficult items to translate.

Sarcasm is a sharp, bitter, or cutting style of expression that usually means the opposite of its literal phrasing. Sarcasm frequently loses its meaning when it is translated word-by-word into another language and can often cause unfortunate misunderstandings. The author can explicitly underscore sarcastic passages so that translators will have a chance to avoid literal misunderstandings and suggest a local idiom that may work better in the target language.

Anyway, idioms and sarcasm are routinely cited as a problem machine translation engines will never fully solve.

  1. Culture

Culture also plays a major part in the use of a language. Ideally, cultural familiarity is a priority in translator recruitment.

  1. Compound Words

Compound words are formed by combining two or more words together, but the overall meaning of the compound word may not reflect the meaning of its component words. There are three forms of compound words:

  • Closed form (like keyboard, notebook, childlike, firefly)
  • Hyphenated form (like six-pack, mass-produced, over-the-counter)
  • Open form (like attorney general, full moon, real estate, post office)

The first group of compound words mean exactly what they say. The second group of compound words mean only half of what they say. The third group of compound words have meanings that have nothing to do with the meanings of the individual words involved.

  1. Multiple Meanings

The same word may mean multiple things depending on where it is placed and how it is used in a sentence. This phenomenon typically follows one of two patterns.

There are homonyms (i.e. Scale the fish before weighing it on the scale/Clean the skin of the fish before weighing it), which look and sound alike but are defined differently. And then there are heteronyms (i.e. I drove down the windy road on a windy day/ I drove down the curvy road on a day with a lot of wind), which look alike but are defined and pronounced differently.


Technological advances and translation software have increased the speed and quantity of translation but not quality. Machine translation runs the risk of not only losing meaning, but also the music of language. However, the artistic aspects of some texts and the importance of scientific discoveries make translation crucial to people’s ability to understand each other and share experiences.

The art of translation requires employment. As a token of appreciation, the art of translation must be duly recognized and valued as the body of written works of particular cultures, languages, people or periods of time. Whatever that is read and enjoyed today is the production and valuable gift of translation and the translators have been able to bring them to us with required accuracy, clarity and flexibility. Hence, the talents, technical skills or the exceptional abilities of the translators who labor hard to produce the translations are to be respected and duly acknowledged.



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