The Difference Between an Expert Translation and a Basic Translation

Is translation an art or a science? This is not really a dilemma. Translation is many things, and among them, it is an art and a science. Translators use dictionaries as a guide and as a tool of discovery. Finding out words, definitions and equivalent terms, and as such, it is a science. But translators also use their brains when translating, when comprehending the meaning of what is being said, understanding the audience and the intention of the content… Translators use their accumulated knowledge to bring in smart workarounds for “untranslatable” terms, tones and hidden meanings.

There are sayings, terms, words, etc. that are particular to a culture (beyond the language) and that need to be reinterpreted and/or reimagined in another language and for another culture… and even for another historical period.

The Instituto Caro y Cuervo recently released a dictionary of Colombian terms (Diccionario de Colombianismos), containing 3,500 terms, 4,000 definitions and 3,000 examples. One of the terms in this magical dictionary is “algo” where “el algo”, verbatim “the something” wouldn’t be adequately translated into English if a machine were to translate it or if a non-Expert translator were to translate it. The specific term means: “a light meal that is eaten during the afternoon, between lunch and dinner”. Furthermore, this “el algo” is referring to local foods, such as: “almojábana, pandequeso, buñuelo, pandeyuca, pandebono, etc.” I suggest you look up these terms in Wikipedia and then look up the real thing in the streets of that beautiful country. (Quick advice: don’t have too many of any of those if you don’t want to put on a few pounds.)

Although a dying language, Yiddish comes with a long history of curses and derogatory terms. Even though it is mainly spoken, there could be an e-mail exchange between two yentas (“female gossipers”) in which one could be telling the other “Zol vaksen tzibbolez fun pipek!”, cursing her so onions grow from her bellybutton, to which the other one could reply back with “Ich feif oif dir!” (literally, “I whistle on you”), which, well interpreted means “Go to hell!” More than a sour language held by old-lady traditions, it is not considered a main language (perhaps a secondary one, although it should be called “mother tongue”), and is used nowadays between “younger” crowds to make each other laugh.

So, getting back on track, an expert translator will add an essential element to the translation, which is a wide knowledge of the subject at hand, and it may make all the difference in the world. An expert translator will also rely on all its resources, including meeting experts in each field or giving experts a call to find out about specific terms. A basic translator, although a professional one, has not specialized in any field; being able to offer good translations for general content, will not be your best bet when desiring a more substantial and well-rounded translation.

Bryan L

Bryan Lattke is a professional translator, editor, market strategist, techie and serial entrepreneur who has a knack for travel, writing, and networking. Since 2003 he has been the Chief Creative Director of Trustlations, Inc. |, overseeing translation, proofreading, copy editing, and DTP services for clients ranging from individuals to Fortune 500 companies.

Leave a Reply