• Katharina Gruber

5 Major Challenges Faced By Translators

A competent translator must possess an in-depth knowledge of the origin and target language. Knowing the culture of the people who speak the language is equally important. Yet, even the most competent translators may come across tasks that cause confusion and create a feeling of frustration. When handling the task of translation, the top five challenges faced by the professionals include:

1. Language structure: Your source language may often have a different structure from your target language. For example, the adjective goes before the noun in English while in French, it goes after the noun. Thus, the right time in English becomes l’heure exacte in French. For a translator, it becomes important not to just know the languages (source and target), but also the appropriate structure and how words are placed in some specific ways. Not having this knowledge would give you a jumbled result at the end of the translation, which may be readable but not drive home the intended message or the essence.

2. Culture: Culture plays a significant role in the structure of a language. While some languages may have the regional spoken dialects woven into them, some others may be influenced by the beliefs, traditions, values, etc. of a particular community. All these factors create cultural differences that will affect the translation as the translator will have to find who the original speaker was, where s/he came from culturally, and do the same again for the target language’s speaker to ensure the content is translated the right way.

3. Humor and sarcasm: Humor isn’t the same everywhere. What's funny in one culture could be offending or humiliating to others. This makes it challenging to translate humor. Sarcasm is another problematic area, especially in poetry and journalistic articles that put forward the author’s opinion on a subject. A translator would need to understand the author’s perspective vis-à-vis the sarcastic comment before translating it since confusion may crop up if a word-to-word translation is done.

4. Technical knowledge: Primarily, translators are linguists. Even though they possess good knowledge of specific subjects, they aren’t typically experts in the domain. You may rarely find say, an engineer, who’s an expert linguist too. Though a translator generally specializes in particular niches and achieves expertise on the subject matter, it may not be enough always. At times, s/he may have to deal with documents that have detailed processes or activities specific to that domain or include a lot of technical jargon. This could create a problem for the translator.

5. Tight deadlines: Most clients requiring translation services need the finished work to be delivered quickly as they hardly have any time to lose. In case the job involves translating a simple document, finishing it within the stipulated deadline won’t be a problem. However, when the job is about translating a legal or medical or technical document that’s full of complex or technical terms, industry jargons, and involves numerous dialects and colloquialisms, the translator would need more time. In case there’s a rigid deadline with a short timeframe, the job could become extremely stressful for the translator.

Some other challenges faced by translators include compound words; words that don’t have any equivalent in the target language; words that are homonyms (such as scale, which can mean the bony plates of a fish, which is a noun, or to climb, which is a verb); verbs made up of two words that mean different things like break off, break up, break away, break down, etc.

There’s no easy answer to overcome these challenges. Your best bet is to find a competent translator who can not only translate words from one language to another but even translate feelings, emotions, thoughts, and handle colloquialisms with élan, among others.

You can find such competent professionals at Bare Bones Translations. Dial 512.571.2296 or send an email to to reach us today!

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