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. Here is an in-depth list of idioms.
The following link explores the differences between slang, idioms and figures of speech, all which come into play in the translation process. Finally, this link showcases some of the more unique and off times humorous cases of idioms.
At TSI, we have extensive understanding as to how idiom translation works, especially considering our team of highly skilled translators are native speakers of the output language. Please reach out via email, phone or our contact page for more information on our services or if you need an estimate.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.