Why a translation isn’t a word-for-word replication of the English

We sometimes are asked why a translation isn’t a word-for-word replication of the English. It can seem strange to see the English next to a much longer German translation, or even a more compact Asian-language translation. While the difference in length or word counts is often tied to text expansion, sometimes there is more to the story – literally.

For instance, when introducing a member of our family, we might simply say, “this is my brother Jack.” The cultural conventions for some languages, such as Chinese, might require the speaker to indicate other information. If the family member being introduced were an uncle, additional information could include which side of the family he is on, whether he is related by birth or marriage, age, etc.

There are also demonstrated instances of languages that simply do not have words that correspond to something we might say in English (or, on the other hand, might have multiple word choices). For example, those who speak Zuñi, a Native American language, don’t differentiate between orange and yellow. Other languages have specific words for different shades of the same color. When it comes to gender, some languages don’t distinguish between gender at all while others are very specific and still others more “middle of the road.”

Of course, whenever in doubt about the content of a translation, always feel free to inquire with your translation provider. A quality provider will be happy to explain any misgivings that you may have and address potential concerns.