Close Isn’t Good Enough in Translation Accuracy

Translation Accuracy

Knowing how to speak and write one foreign language can often help you learn another. Such is the case with Spanish and Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin) and Japanese and to a lesser extent German and Dutch.

Translation accuracy, however, can suffer if the individual is fluent in one of the languages but only has a working knowledge of the other.

Language Mistakes Aren’t Always Funny

Mistakes that occur to tourists and those traveling for other reasons can often be laughed off. While in Austria one time, a good friend who is fluent in Dutch learned from a kind native speaker that she was swearing when she chose a word that sounded close to a term in Dutch that was not a curse word.

Similarly, in Frankfurt one time I asked for ein Fass when I wanted a beer on tap. A Bavarian had given me that word and while it may have worked in Munich, further north the term meant that I wanted a barrel of beer.

Such situations can be easily dismissed, but not when mistakes occur when translating websites, business contracts, legal documents and the like. For these instances, you must work with a translator who is thoroughly familiar with your target language.

Similarities Between Portuguese and Spanish

Portuguese and Spanish, members of the West Iberian branch of Romance languages share a high number of cognates with exact or slight differences in spelling. Yet some words that look and sound similar have radically different meanings.

Here are some words that look and sound similar but have radically different meanings in Spanish and Portuguese:

Abono/subscription, fertilizer Abono/deposit, allowance
Barata/cheap Barata/cockroach
Embarazada/pregnant Embaraçada/confused
Mala/bad Mala/suitcase
Tasa/tariff, fee Taça/glass of wine, champagne

In addition to important differences between these two languages, both also have regional words along with changes in meaning that occur from the Old World to the New World. If you have a document directed toward individuals in South America, make sure your translation reflects these differences.

Difficulties Between Chinese and Japanese Languages

As two of the world’s most sophisticated languages, Chinese and Japanese are difficult to learn. The Kanji written characters, used in both languages, can make translation even more confusing as 80% of these characters are used in both languages and often have the same meaning.

Chinese, however, has many more written characters along with a tonal difference in the spoken language that does not exist in Japanese.

Translation accuracy is of the utmost importance when working with a foreign language that can be confusing to inexperienced translators.

The correct regional or language-specific words can make the difference between making or breaking a deal and can avoid embarrassing situations that can occur with incorrect word choice. Make sure your translator is an expert in your target language.

This post is written by Arlene Miles, a content writer with Ulatus.

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