Idioms, a common form of everyday speech, are often found in formal business language. They exist is all major languages and often have as bizarre a meaning as they do in English. Let’s take the familiar idiom, I’m pulling your leg. Of course almost all native English speakers know it means, I’m kidding you or I’m joking with you. The common translation in Spanish is, Estoy tomando tu pelo. Which translates as I’m taking your hair. It makes sense to Spanish speakers, but a word for word translation into English would have us stymied. Because of this, we carefully read all documents we receive for translation checking for idioms, slang, grammar, unique terminology and any phrasing that might create an obstacle to the translation process. Here is a short list of common idioms we have encountered in the past few years.
Of the six examples, only one “At the drop of a hat” comes close to the Spanish meaning. We encourage our clients to try and avoid idioms whenever possible as they may lead to misunderstanding that might confuse not only the translator, but the intended target audience. For an in-depth list of idioms see:
http://www.smart-words.org/quotes-sayings/idioms-meaning.html. The following link explores the differences between slang, idioms and figures of speech, all which come into play in the translation process. https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-explain-the-difference-between-slang-idioms-and-figure-of-speech. The following link showcases some of the more unique and off times humorous cases of idioms. http://www.lingholic.com/its-raining-husbands-and-other-idioms-translated-into-different-languages/
Here are two simple phrases to make a point. “You will find the books on the table.” “On the table, you will find the books.” Here we have the exact same words, but in a different order. Obviously they are both correct, but it’s interesting how many people will insist on their choice as being the correct version. This is very common and something we deal with everyday in our review process. We always make it a point to mention this to our clients prior to starting a new project or establishing a new working relationship. The preferred word in one country might not be the preferred word in another.
Not long ago we were translating a technical document that had the word, ball bearing. The document was going to be distributed in various countries in Latin America. We chose a translator from Colombia who was an engineer with more than 20 years of experience translating technical documents. His choice was rodamientos. Our client sent the translation to company offices in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Panama, and Costa Rica and received the following versions of ball bearings: rodamientos, cojinete de bolas, cojinete de municiones, rodillo, balines, rulemanes, and bolas de metal.
Our client couldn’t afford to send 7 different versions of the document, so we settled on cojinete de bolas, which perhaps was not preferred, but well enough understood by all. Typically this is not a major concern with technical terminology. A hammer is a hammer; a nail is a nail, etc. I used this example as an illustration. However, when dealing with topics such as food, clothing, etc., regionalisms often come into play. For more information see: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Regionalism+(linguistics).
Although regionalisms vary from country to country, in our experience Spanish has the widest variation.
There are 21 countries where Spanish is at least one of the recognized official languages.
For a broader perspective of language variations see: http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/countries_by_languages.htm
In a few words translation means conveying words, ideas and intent from one language to another.
Words are the building blocks of any spoken or written language. In and of themselves, they have very limited meaning. Even one word added, deleted or replaced in a phrase can dramatically change the meaning or intent of the message. For example, the following 7-word phrases have just one different word, but a world of difference. “See the books on the table”. “Move the books on the table.” This may sound elementary, but it indicates intent. The first intent is passive, while the second is active. It’s absolutely crucial for a translator to understand the intent of the client. Is the client trying to inform, persuade, enlighten, alert, advise, etc.? As machine translation (using computers to translate) grows in popularity, it falls short and is generally quite inadequate when trying to decipher intent. A computer will recognize thousands of words, but it isn’t able to get into the mind of the writer or speaker. For an in-depth comparison of human vs. machine translation see: http://www.anecsys.com/2015/04/human-translation-vs-machine-translation/.
If you’re trying to read an email from a long lost cousin who speaks another language, or you only need to get a general idea of what is written, then by all means try one of the common online translation sites such as https://www.translate.google.com/ or https://www.babelfish.com/. Quite often, especially when dealing with advertising or marketing, intent is not clear. Coca Cola has a well-known campaign called “Coke is it!” The intent, of course, is to sell their product. But how does one translate this? And how does one translate this with style? These are just a few of the things translators deal with on a daily basis. Here are a few more examples of Coke slogans. “Ice-cold sunshine.” “America's favorite moment.” “Passport to refreshment.” “Coke knows no season.” “For people on the go.” “It's the real thing.” “Coke adds life.” “Life tastes good.” “Make It Real.” “Open Happiness.” “Taste The Feeling.” and "As it should be." Send any of these slogans to a dozen different translators working with the same language pairs and you’ll get at least 6 different translations, perhaps more. And, they will all be correct.