The Art of Translation

There are basically two different philosophies for translating one language into another: ‘word-for-word’ and ‘thought-for-thought’.

There really isn’t an advantage for one over the other — they are just different. ‘Word-for-word’ is more literal but can be difficult to understand (it usually doesn’t flow well). ‘Thought-for-thought’ is more of a para-phrase but can lose the nuisances that the original language communicates (flows well but possibly not as accurate).

There is also a difference between translation and interpretation. Did you know that translation is written while interpreting is spoken? Also, good interpreting follows a ‘word-for-word’ translation.

There are some great tools online that help translate another language. Currently, the most popular is Google Translate. It’s not bad, but it’s not perfect. It seems to rely more on ‘word-for-word’ translation.

In the past, people have asked me how good an Internet tool such as Google Translate is. I typically suggest to copy a familiar quote (from the US Constitution, The Bible, etc), translate it into another language, then take that translation and translate it back into English. The translation tool’s limitations will become quite obvious.

And that brings me to the following video. CDZA created a video using the lyrics to the opening of the hit 90’s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. Hilarity happens, but you can also see how the meaning of a text gets lost in translation…

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a translator to communicate in another language. Just understand that the current tools will lose some context, but still be able to (mostly) get the message across. Try it for yourself!

And while we’re on the subject of translation, I feel that I must mention the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone is an actual rock that helped linguistics translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs into English. And, of course, it’s now the name of a company that focuses on learning a new language.

And the fun part? Sometimes you just have to reframe the original…

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