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How to Translate Idioms


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How to Translate Idioms

Last updated: September 24th, 2015 by admin

How to Translate Idioms

Last updated:September 24th, 2015 by admin

Idioms are expressions that have found their way into common usage in most of the world’s languages. They not only have unique meanings but tools like “Google Translate” have difficulties in coming out with the correct translation for many idioms. It’s usually virtually impossible to provide a word for word translation for idioms because of their uniqueness. This is because one idiom has often evolved from a small group of people living in a specific area. The culture of that area may have developed an idiom that fits in nicely with the group’s surroundings. Once the idiom is circulated outside the group its meaning may have no relevancy. For example, the idiom ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’ would have no relevance in a place where hens never existed.

Because of this difficulty in translating idioms, a wealth of literature has emerged explaining possible translation tactics. One such book is by Mona Baker and is called “In Other Words: A Course Book on Translation“.

There is a useful chapter in the book called, “The translating of idioms: strategies” If you are working as a translator for translation services in Australia you will be mostly handling translations that use British English. If you come across an idiom in English that you have to translate into the target language that is the language you are translating into the first step is to search the target language for an equivalent idiom in that language. That means it has to use identical words to the English idiom, structured in the same way i.e. the order of the words and the meaning is the same too.

Sometimes you are lucky and you will find the same idiom that has either been passed to other languages or has evolved in a similar fashion to the English version. If this fails look for an idiom in your own language that is made up of different words which have a structure that is not the same but the meaning is exactly the same. If this option fails, look for an idiom in your own language that is made up of different words with a structure that is different and the meaning is not quite the same but nearly. You can perform a translation of this with an added explanation.

If you are really perplexed about translating an idiom say into German and you can’t find a group of German words that fit the English meaning then you may have to find a translator who is a German speaker who works with you at translation services in Brisbane who can help you find the correct combination of words that best expresses the English idiom in German. In an emergency you can try the internet website http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/ to source a suitable translation. You do have to get the translation near to perfect when translating a document for document translation services.


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