The translation of a language is no doubt a difficult task. But are all the languages equally tough and challenging to translate? Obviously, NOT. Because some languages are inherently more complex than others, even when linguists have command over both languages (source and target).
During translation, a linguist’s job is not just to replace words in one language with suitable words in another. Rather, they need to have multiple skills and experiences to complete this rigorous process of translation. The difficulty they experience might be due to different grammatical rules, script systems, or dialect variations of the languages.
Oftentimes, a linguist has to work with more attention to detail and spend extra time to achieve accuracy. This pretty much explains why most companies find it tricky to choose the best translation agency for their project.
The reasons could vary, explaining why some languages are more complicated to translate than others.
i) One reason could be the fact that different languages come from different roots. If two languages have the same origin, the job becomes relatively easy. However, if they don’t share a common history, translators find it hard to translate from one language to the other. Likewise, syntax and grammar variations in two languages might also create challenges.
ii) Some languages are tonal. The way a word is spoken can frequently entirely alter its meaning. Since one word can have multiple meanings based on pronunciation. This creates big problems when handling written materials.
iii) In some cases, a word’s pronunciation and spelling are identical. But still, their meanings are different. So, context plays a critical role in translating such words. Without context, chances are that the translation will be highly inaccurate.
iv) Sometimes, the number of characters in both languages is different which also plays a role in translation difficulties. The room for errors is greater when a language has more characters. Even if a translator makes a minor character mistake, the meaning of the content can significantly change.
Some of the main causes why certain dialects are difficult to learn than another are the reasons stated above.
Two most commonly translated languages and their challenges
The world around us is home to about 7000+ active languages. It’s not possible for a translator to familiarize themself with the specifics and peculiarities of all these languages.
In this section, we’ll only cover the two most frequently translated languages and explain what makes them more difficult.
Mandarin Chinese and its major challenges
Cantonese is one of the various languages that make up the Chinese word and is the most commonly used one. Based on the Beijing dialect, Mandarin Chinese became the official language of courts and other sections of China. More than 900 million people in the nation speak it at the present time.
It is regarded as one of the hardest languages to translate by professionals. This is due to the various challenges that come up during Chinese translation services.
Mandarin Chinese has almost 80,000 characters. Since it’s tonal in nature, each character has a unique sound and pronunciation. Most words you come across generally have more than one meaning.
With the variation in tone, a word can also have an altered meaning. To convey the actual meaning of the original text, a translator has to have excellent interpretative abilities. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to appeal to their target market’s intellectual level. Hence, the translator must have a clear picture of the context.
Moreover, every now and then a translator has to face new characters during translation. While experts say that knowing 3,000 to 5,000 characters is enough for full literacy, this is not always the case. As a result, Mandarin becomes very complex to translate and interpret.
You’ll also find it amazing that Mandarin Chinese has no tenses. A linguist doesn’t find it easy to describe things in the past, present, or future. Speaking about the word order of this language, the object of the sentence usually comes first. So, “I eat the apple” becomes “Apple I ate” during translation. This adds an extra layer of difficulty for translators and language experts.
About 135 million people speak German around the world. It’s not only popular in Germany but in more than 30 other countries as well. As a result, it ranks among the languages that are translated the most.
What makes the German language so difficult to translate?
When dealing with German translation services, grammatical complexity is the most important factor that makes it challenging for translators. The language has different tenses and agreements for masculine, feminine, and neuter. Consequently, translation becomes difficult without mastering these differences.
One of the world’s longest languages is German. That means if you’re translating an English text into German, your text can expand dramatically. You can expect about 35% expansion, which can greatly impact your website design project or a mobile-friendly email.
The nature of the language is such that it needs more specificity. A translator must understand the content type and its purpose. Plus, you should also let them know about any notes on design, layout, or images. Otherwise, your translation can cost you credibility.
The translation is a painstaking process. Every language has a different complexity level. This ranges from Mandarin and German to any other language in the world.
Before you start translating your content into any language, understand what challenges it offers. In case you can’t handle those challenges, it’s best to work with an experienced agency. They will translate your content accurately and effortlessly, overcoming all the difficulties in translation.