The English language has a reputation for being one of the most difficult languages to learn, and that reputation is well-earned. Between the many different types of grammar exceptions and the many rules regarding how certain phonetic sounds work in various words, it’s very lucky if you’re a native speaker of the language. And when you work in language translation, you quickly realise that English is even stranger and more unique than you thought. The English language keeps surprising, whether you’re just starting to learn or your skills are so advanced you could work in professional translation. Below are several interesting features of the English language that you will learn from working in language services.
The Trickiest Part of Language Translation: Words with No Translations
There are plenty of interesting words and phrases from other languages that have no directly translatable meaning outside of their original culture. German is infamous for words that have no direct translation to English without a long, descriptive sentence. One example is Waldeinsamkeit, which means a feeling of connectedness and solitude when you’re alone in the woods. Famously, Sweden has an idiom that translates to, “There’s no cow on the ice,” which means there is no need to worry.
The issue goes in the opposite direction too. There are plenty of English words that can’t be translated directly. Language service provider Tomedes published a blog post detailing some of those words, and they’re surprisingly common ones. Awkward doesn’t quite translate into Italian. The closest word is scomodo, which just means uncomfortable, and doesn’t really capture the embarrassment, discomfort or uncertainty of the word awkward. Shallow, as in something that is not deep, has no equivalent in French or Italian. When performing language translation in Spanish, the word insight as it relates to deep understanding does not have a direct translation. Translators can only use Spanish words such as perception or intuition.
How the Growing English Language Affects Language Translation Services
Another surprising thing about the English language is the rate at which it just keeps on growing. The quarterly update in September 2020 saw 650 entries added to the Oxford English Dictionary, including craftivist and Cookie Monster.
The difficulty with new words and language translation is that often these words are so new, it can be hard to find terms in other languages that fit. This has led to the rise of loanwords, or words that are adopted from a foreign language with little or no modification. For instance, some Japanese loanwords in the English language include typhoon, tsunami, emoji and futon. It’s a fascinating topic, once you start exploring just how much languages across the world influence each other.
As language evolves, it requires more extensive translation glossaries. If you work in professional translation, you have to continually update glossaries and learn new things about the English language to keep up.
Language Translation and Vowels
English vowels enjoy a surprisingly wide range of different pronunciations based on the combinations of other letters in the word. The combination of o-u-g-h alone comes with different pronunciations:
As another example, ea often makes a long e sound. However, sometimes it has a short e sound. Or a long a sound. Consider:
Eat, sea or each
Dead, head or spread
Break, great or steak
These pronunciations make intuitive sense when you have spoken English from birth. However, for language learners, they can be a major source of frustration. It can also be hard in professional translation, as many text translations revolve around wordplay and rhyming, so it’s important to know intuitively how words sound, particularly when you’re switching rapidly between languages.
Other Surprising Facts About English that We Can Learn from Professional Translation
There are many little facts about the language you learn while working in professional translation. Some interesting snippets include:
Words we use repeatedly are actually known as crutch words. The word actually in the last sentence counts as a crutch word, along with honestly and basically. It’s best to not overuse these. An astonishing number of words in the English language come from French. For instance, commence comes from the French commencer. Good news for anyone working with language translation in French!
Much of the technology that originated in English-speaking countries went on to influence language all over the world. iPhone and internet both count as international words. For instance, the word for computer in Japanese is pronounced as konpyūtā or konpyūta, as represented in Latin lettering.
English is a non-gendered language. That means it does not apply male or female categories to nouns, articles, adjectives or verbs. That can make it tricky for English speakers who are learning gendered languages, since they are not used to deciding whether a table is male or female. As an example, when doing language translation from English to Spanish, you have to know that el Papa is a Christian religious leader and la papa means the potato.
With how difficult it is to work with our wonderful, diverse and confusing language, you may be wondering: Do professional translators use Google Translate? Some translators use machine translation as a first pass, but those are usually professional translation programs and not Google Translate.
If you do use Google Translate, it’s still important to use professional translation services as well. What is the best online translation service? Some of the top professional translation services online include GTS Translation, Tomedes, Stepes, Day Translations and The Word Point. The best services are known for their accuracy, rapid delivery, affordability and superb customer service. They will be able to handle the many surprising quirks of the English language smoothly and intuitively.