Challenges for Translators

by Kim Mandel

Among the many challenges translators encounter in their work are different structures prevalent in various languages. Each language has its own configuration which can constitute an obstacle to communicating correctly.

Translating literally is particularly complicated and can lead to unintentional mistakes. For example, “He is an old friend.” However, in Spanish, there are two possible meanings. One, “Es un amigo viejo”, or “Es un viejo amigo. One meaning is “He is a friend who is old, while the other is “He is a longtime friend.” Hence, it’s essential to know what the writer means in order to avoid misunderstandings, ambiguity or incorrect interpretation. Word placement can also lead to misunderstanding: “Es un hombre grande-He’s a big man.” Or “Es un gran hombre-He’s a great man.” Then there are cultural differences that can complicate the work of a translator. It may even occur in the same language. Consider the different meanings in British and U.S. English. For example, in Great Britain to knock somebody up means going around to their house and knocking on the door. But in the U.S., the expression has a completely different meaning. It refers to making a woman pregnant. In the next post, I’ll discuss “false friends” (words that are similar but have a totally different meaning.)