January 23, 2014

Guest post: Translation Slip Ups and Snags

Hi! Great to see you in my blog again today :) Please meet a new guest author, Nina Lizunova from Romo Translations. Today we are going to speak about translation slip ups and snags.

'The four capital mistakes of open source' photo (c) 2011, opensource.com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ It's complicated

Translation is a technical task that requires hands-on skills. As a translator, you must possess strong command of syntax, phraseology and etymology of words to effectively translate them into their true meaning.In every translation project there are various difficult issues that arise and it normally differs from language to language. Here are a few problems I face as a Russian Linguist and Translator.

Translating idioms

Idioms are popular expressions that explain something by using examples and figures of speech. They are expressions of each culture, sometimes specific to a small area or a city. They are “cultural-bound”, that is why it is so hard to export them to another context, because the translator needs to find other cultural references. It can sometimes be a “pain in the neck” which in itself is an idiom.

Literal Translation

Also called directed translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word" with or without conveying the sense of the original text. A great example would be a famous (or infamous) speech given by Paul Bremmer when he was acting as the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq a few years ago. It was a Ramadan speech, and as such was designed to demonstrate understanding of the Islamic culture and concerns – to be a reassuring speech from a man representing a powerful military that had just marched in and effected regime change in the area. The text of the speech did just that. It was not a brilliant speech, but a good enough speech had it been translated with skill and a real feel for the local audience, it would have done its job. However, it wasn’t translated well. It was translated literally, and in that sense it was an expert job: The words on the page meant pretty much what Bremmer meant to say. All well and good, but the style was extremely stilted and awkward. A local Arabic speaker might, after some time have been able to work out what was meant but it wasn’t immediately obvious.

Translators “False” Friends

False friends of translators (or faux amis in French) are pairs of words in two languages or dialects (or letters in two alphabets) that look and/or sound similar, but differ in meaning. For example, in the UK, to “table” a motion means to place it on the agenda, while in the U.S. it means exactly the opposite – to remove it from consideration.


In linguistics, syntax (from the Greek word “syntaxis" which means arrangement) is the study of the principles and processes by which sentences are constructed in particular languages. It is important to understand that syntax has a large role in order to be able to deal with translation without any problems. It is of a great importance to know more information about syntax because they are considered as the basics of a better translation.


Neologisms are new words, word-combinations or fixed phrases that appear in the language due to the development of social life, culture, science and engineering, new meanings of existing words are also accepted as neologisms. Neologisms are perhaps the professional translator's biggest problem. It has been stated that each language acquires 3000 new words, annually, but in fact, neologisms cannot be accurately measured, since so many hover between acceptance and rejection and many are short-lived, individual creations. The issue of translating new words ranks high on the list of challenges facing translators because such words are not readily found in ordinary dictionaries and even in the newest specialized dictionaries.

Author Bio:

Nina Lizunova is a Language Project Coordinator at Romo Translations, which provides translation and interpreting services in London, for private clients and large corporations that operate in a multinational, multi-cultural business environment.
For more information, please visit http://www.romo-translations.com/