Lost in translation: Eight of our favourite untranslatables!

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a document translation company, a concept we find particularly interesting is that of untranslatability. By this, we mean a single word in one language, for which no equivalent single word exists in another language. Everything is translatable, to a certain extent, but it’s these unique words with no precise one-to-one counterpart, that often give a fascinating insight into another country or culture, and their way of thinking.

A NAATI accredited translator is, of course trained and qualified to find the most effective and appropriate way of phrasing something when writing a translation, even if it isn’t necessarily word-for-word. Sometimes, though, the word itself is so distinctive and expressive, it’s almost a shame to spoil it by translating it! There are lots of these ‘untranslatable’ words in existence; here are a few of our favorites…
•    Iktsuarpok (Inuit) “The feeling of anticipation leading you to go outside and check if anyone is coming.”

•    Tartle (Scottish) “The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.”

•    Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese) “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”

•    Tingo (Pascuense – Easter Island) “The act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.”

•    Ya’aburnee (Arabic) “A declaration of a person’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.”

•    Gheegle (Filipino) “The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.”

•    Pochemuchka(Russian) “A person who asks too many questions.”

•    Waldeinsamkeit (German) “The feeling of being alone in the woods.”

This list is by no means definitive; it’s been no easy task narrowing it down to a just a small selection. Some of these are particularly suggestive of the values and unique way of living in certain cultures. If you want the very best standards in your translation, engage the services of a NAATI translator through a certified translation service, so you can be sure none of the meaning gets lost in translation.

Translation – Or How To Close A Sale With A Bit Of Effort

An anonymous German businessman is credited with the quote “When I’m selling, I’ll speak your language.  When I’m buying, you’ll speak mine.”.  Whether or not the source of the quote is true, the accuracy of it is hard to dispute.  One of the great ironies of the growth of international trade is that in a world where companies and individuals can often take their pick of goods and services, literally, from across the globe, they often prefer to do business with people they feel understand them.  In other words, they want to deal with people who “speak their language” in every sense of the phrase.

Quality language translation services will put at least as much effort into document translation as the creator(s) of the original document did when they put it together.  This is why using a certified translation service is more than about compliance with (potential) legal issues.  It’s about ensuring that the end document is a sales’ tool, regardless of whether or not that is its main purpose.  Rightly or wrongly, first impressions do count for a lot and just as companies would likely hesitate to hire a candidate who fails to present themselves appropriately, so an end customer is likely to have reservations about using a company which fails to present documentation properly.

Keeping Translations On Target

Back in the 1950s, IBM calculated that translating a short piece of text required more than double the number of computing instructions needed to simulate a guided missile in flight. While computing power has increased literally exponentially since then, improvements in machine translation have not kept pace. That there have certainly been improvements is beyond doubt. When Google translate first started, its attempts at translation were the stuff of legend. Now, for simple phrases, it has a decent chance of getting a close match. Ironically these improvements have come about since Google stopped trying to teach its system how to speak a language. Instead, Google Translate now looks through literally hundreds of millions of websites to find possible matches and uses a complex algorithm to pick the best.

Even with all these improvements, Google translate still regularly produces some questionable results. The most common issue of all is with words which have multiple meanings. Ship, for example, can be a noun or a verb. “Ship it!” can also be a slang expression. In translation context is crucial and computers still are nowhere close to grasping the full complexity of any human language.

Efforts to continue to improve machine translation are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The simple reality is that it’s much cheaper than using a human and for content which dates quickly may eventually be a cost-effective solution. For work which is expected to have a long-term impact, however, a human translator is a necessity. A NAATI accredited translator offering a certified translation service will not only produce a document which conveys the meaning of the source text, but will also ensure that any cultural requirements are accommodated. A Chinese NAATI translator for example, will be familiar with customs both in China and in the country (or countries) of their target language and will be able to ensure that any implicit assumptions are conveyed.

What The Cold War Can Teach Us About Translation

Back in the days of the cold war, two diplomats, who’d both been athletes in their youth, decided to have a race.  In the U.S. it was reported as follows: yesterday a U.S. diplomat and a Russian diplomat had a race.  The U.S. diplomat won.  In Russia it was reported as follows: yesterday there was a race between diplomats.  The Russian diplomat came second, the U.S. diplomat came last but one.  The moral of the story is that context is key.  This period is also particularly rich in stories about the difficulties caused by translations (or lack thereof) and mistranslations – some of them may even be true.

It’s probably fair to say that the more different two languages are, the harder it is to translate between them.  A Chinese NAATI translator, for example, arguably has a much more challenging job than a German NAATI accredited translator.  It’s not just the words themselves that need to be conveyed, but all the assumptions behind them.  Not with standing this, a reputable company offering a certified translation service will ensure that language is no barrier to effective communication.  It may be fun to laugh at someone else’s translation experiences, but it’s no fun to have to worry about the quality of your own.

Translation And The Rise Of The Machines

Computers have undoubtedly changed the world, although often not in the ways people initially imagined.  IBM for example confidently predicted a world where computers would be better than humans in numerous ways.  Their famous Deep Blue computer finally best chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, although that game was far from without controversy as there was human intervention between games, and IBM declined Kasparov’s demand for a rematch, retiring the machine.

While Deep Blue has become a matter of legend, another IBM creation, computer 701 has been quietly forgotten.  Sixty years ago this year, IBM used 701 to translate sentences from Russian to English.  This promptly led to headlines suggesting that human translators would soon be surplus to requirements.  Without wishing to detract from the significance of IBM’s achievement, neither they nor any of the many companies now offering machine translation, not even Google, have come close to replacing humans.  It’s also worth noting, that Google Translate has had a huge degree of input from humans.  While, in fairness, it’s probably helped many a lost backpacker read local signs, it’s unlikely that any respectable company would use it for any significant piece of translation.

Machine translation is largely based on statistical matches and as any good statistician would admit, statistics don’t always tell the whole story.  A NAATI-accredited translator offering a certified translation service will look at a piece of text in context.  A Chinese NAATI translator for example will be familiar both with Chinese culture and the culture of the target language country.  This means that they can deal both with the translatable and the untranslatable, words and broader concepts that simply do not exist in the target language.  This may mean creating a piece of text where they are explained as no direct translation is possible.

Translating – When All Is Said And Done, That’s Exactly What It Is

There’s an old joke about an Englishman, a Frenchman and a German discussing languages. The Frenchman argued that French was the best language in the world as it was the language of romance. The German argued that German was the best language in the world, because it the language of discovery of thought and science. The Englishman, however, just smiled and, picking up a knife said, “You’re both wrong. You Frenchies call this un couteau and you Jerries call it ein Messer, but we English call it a knife, which, when all is said and done is exactly what it is.”.

To speakers of all languages, their interpretation of any particular concept makes perfect sense and in history the fact that people from another country may see matters somewhat differently may only become apparent if they tried to learn another language for any reason. In modern times, however, people now often have to learn to adapt to other people’s view of the world, even if they themselves never leave their home country. International travel has made tourism a huge industry while international trade means that businesses need to communicate with partners across continents and cultures.

It’s the latter point that tends to pose a challenge. Where there are common cultural links, people can often communicate very ably over great distances. Australia and the U.K. for example are literally at opposite sides of the globe, but generally people from both countries can understand each other very well, even if they each use expressions the other finds amusing. When dealing with more significant cultural differences however, the importance of using a certified translation service, can not be overstated. Effective language translation services ensure that document translation takes into account cultural differences as well as linguistic ones.

A Home Without Rent?

The idea behind the working holiday visa is to allow people to explore and experience Australia, paying their way as they go.  Many travellers go about this task the conventional way of finding a job and a place to live within travelling distance of the job, but there are other approaches.  House-sitting is a popular service in Australia as in other countries and is often facilitated by agencies charging minimal fees.  Most stays are short-term (to cover holidays for example), although some can be for longer, for example to cover a family travelling abroad.  Liking animals is often a distinct advantage since people often use house-sitters as a way to avoid having to put pets into boarding kennels.  Generally speaking there’s nothing to stop the sitter having a job as well, just as long as their able to take care of whatever other duties are agreed.  For those interested in going down this route, it’s particularly important to use a certified translation service for document translation since home owners are generally very eager to check the credentials of the person who will be living in their family home.  Using a NAATI accredited translator will ensure that documents are accurate and give the best possible impression.