Words and sentences that contain idioms and proverbs are an important part of the linguistic culture of a country. This is mainly due to the fact they have originated from a country’s geographical ecosystem or historical development. If, for example, the Chinese don’t share exactly the same geography and history as another country it makes it almost an impossible translation job when a translator is asked to translate from the Chinese language into English.

There are idioms that are particularly influenced by a geographical environment in the country such as, “spend money like water” in English which means spend money lavishly.  The reason for the word “water” is it seems due to wealthy Britain being surrounded by the liquid. But if this idiom was contained in a text to be translated into Chinese there is no real equivalent as the Chinese see the earth and land being more significant in their lives.  When a Chinese translator translates the idiom “spend money like water”, “earth” would probably be used to express the activity, not “water”.

The problem with an almost impossible translation is more significant if the translator is trying to translate a fictitious story or a poem from one language or another because a poem is so embedded in the thoughts of the reader which might be easily understood in the original language of the poem but the true meaning of the text may be lost in translation.

In English the idiom “let the cat out of the bag” comes from an old story. A pig seller placed a cat into a bag in order to trick the buyers that it contained a pig.  However, a buyer arrived and before participating in a transaction with the seller the cat leapt out of the bag on its own. However, when translating this idiom into Chinese, the meaning can only be conveyed in a Chinese sense which is “to tell a secret”. This means the reader doesn’t have the opportunity to get full enjoyment out of the funny side of the story. Because it’s an almost impossible translation literally, the meaning is hard to convey in a realistic manner.

This is why it’s so important if you get a tough translation like this you should hire an experienced translator to do the translation. This is especially important if the translation is to take place between languages and cultures that are not similar. An experienced translator will know as much as there is to know about the two languages she is qualified to translate and will ensure that nothing is missed.

Published On: November 16th, 2020 / Categories: Blog /

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