5 Common Challenges in Translation and How to Overcome Them

5 Common Challenges in Translation and How to Overcome Them
Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy


Translating business, legal, or medical content can be quite challenging. Idioms, punctuation, and humor also make translating text from one language to another very difficult.

A translation process is not complete until specific merits, such as intended meaning, are met.

This is why professional translation services companies hire extensively trained and experienced translators. 

Let’s look at some common challenges that translators encounter and how they can be overcome.

5. Common Challenges in Translation and How to Overcome Them

1. Language Structure

You don't qualify to be a professional translator just because you are bilingual. The profession demands more than that.

It’s about understanding the cultural aspects of the source and target languages.

There are various aspects that vary across languages. For instance, in English, verbs come after subjects and before objects.

This aspect is not as straightforward as that in other languages, such as Arabic, which has totally different structural and semantic rules.

The only way of overcoming language structure challenges is by having a genuine grasp of the grammatical differences between both languages.

With such knowledge, you can alter and rearrange words and phrases to capture the intended meaning in the target language.

2. Homonyms and Homophones

English and the Romance languages have many words with multiple meanings.

Homonyms are words that are spelled and pronounced the same way but mean different things, depending on the context.

For instance, the word "date" could mean a particular day, a fruit, or a meeting with someone you love.

There are also homophones, which are words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and meanings. Examples of homophobes include “bye/by/buy” or “show/shore.”

Most languages have multiple words with different meanings as well as heteronyms. Knowing when to use the correct homonyms when translating content can be a challenge.

To overcome this problem, the translator must be well-versed with the vocabulary of both languages.

This may require the translator to commit to learning the two languages extensively.

3. Semantic Problems

In translation, semantics are tough to grapple with. Semantics relates to terminologies, meanings, contextual synonyms, and antonyms.

Get the semantics wrong, and your entire message can be messed up.

To solve translation semantic problems, you can consult language experts or various language dictionaries.

4. Idioms and Cultural Differences

Every language has idioms and other linguistic expressions tied explicitly to its people’s culture.

These expressions are essential but also challenging to translate if there are cultural differences between the source and target languages.

Moreover, some expressions have different literal and actual meanings. For instance, the phrase “beat around the bush” cannot be taken literally as it won’t make much sense.

As a translator, you have to understand the correct meanings behind expressions found in the source language, and then look for their alternatives in the target language.

5. Terms with No Alternatives in the Target Language

Another challenge that translators encounter is the lack of corresponding words in the target language.

Every language has words that are exceptionally difficult to translate.

Some of the reasons for this are they may not have equivalents in other languages, they have multiple meanings, or they describe minute thoughts and sensations.

In English, some of the words that tend to challenge translators include procrastinate, multitask, and jinx.

Some Semitic languages, such as Arabic, are even more complex and rich in homonyms that can make the translation a nightmare.

If you are offering document translation services or you wish to work with translation agencies, you need to be ready to tackle various challenges.

The above are five of the most common challenges you will encounter at one time or the other.

However, if you have knowledge, experience, and passion for both your source and target languages, you should be able to translate content accurately from a source language to a target language.

Also Read: Professional Translation Service: Why Global Companies Need it?

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Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy is the Cofounder & President of GMR Transcription Services, Inc., a California-based company that has been providing accurate and fast transcription services since 2004. She has enjoyed nearly ten years of success at GMR, playing a pivotal role in the company's growth. Under Beth's leadership, GMR Transcription doubled its sales within two years, earning recognition as one of the OC Business Journal's fastest-growing private companies. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids.