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Translators usually have to deal with six different translation problems in their work, whether they’re
translating a leaflet or a KIID: grammar, syntax…

Translators usually have to deal with six different problematic areas in their work, whether they
are translating technical documents or a sworn statement. These include: lexical-semantic
problems; grammar; syntax; rhetoric; and pragmatic and cultural problems. Not to mention administrative
issues, computer-related problems and stress…


Lexical-semantic problems can be resolved by consulting dictionaries, glossaries, terminology banks and
experts. These problems include terminology alternatives, neologisms, semantic gaps, contextual synonyms
and antonyms (these affect polysemic units: synonyms and antonyms are only aimed at an acceptance which
depends on the context to determine which meaning is correct), semantic contiguity (a consistency procedure
which works by identifying semantic features common to two or more terms) and lexical networks.


Grammatical problems include, for example, questions of temporality, aspectuality (the appearance indicates
how the process is represented or the state expressed by the verb from the point of view of its development,
as opposed to time itself), pronouns, and whether or not to make the subject pronoun explicit.


Syntactical problems may originate in syntactic parallels, the direction of the passive voice, the focus (the
point of view from which a story is told), or even rhetorical figures of speech, such as a hyperbaton (the
inversion of the natural order of speech) or an anaphora (repetition of a word or segment at the beginning of
a line or a phrase).


Rhetorical problems are related to the identification and recreation of figures of thought (comparison,
metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, oxymoron, paradox, etc.) and diction.


Pragmatic problems arise with the difference in the formal and informal modes of address using “you”, as
well as idiomatic phrases, sayings, irony, humor and sarcasm. These difficulties can also include other
challenges; for example, in the translation of a marketing text from English into French, specifically with the
translation of the personal pronoun “you”. The translator must decide whether the formal or the informal
“you” is more appropriate, a decision which is not always clear.


Cultural issues may arise from differences between cultural references, such as names of food, festivals and
cultural connotations, in general. The translator will use language localization to correctly adapt the
translation to the culture targeted. A very simple example is a financial translation, which includes dates. If
the text is in English, it is most likely, but not absolutely certain, that 05/06/2015 will mean June 5. However,
as everyone knows, the same sequence in another language refers to May 6.
Difficulties caused by language structure

There are about 7000 living languages currently listed in the world, not to mention the number of
dialects existing within these languages. Every single one of them is unique, with own origins, roots and
structure. In a way, each language is a prism and has its own complex way of functioning Idioms, expressions,
compound words, false friends, even onomatopoeic expressions; all of them make the richness and
uniqueness of a language, but also represent an obstacle for communication.

For example, a funny joke in one language can lose all its meaning when translated to another, so if you’re
trying to transcribe a joke in a foreign language, your interlocutor might not actually get your sense of
humour. This, especially within the business and marketing environments, can be potentially dangerous.

Cultural factors

Each population has a way of communicating and expressing its own messages, as well as its own code when
it comes to language, symbols, understanding, shorthand, etc. These factors generate a big potential for
misunderstanding; cultural factors are therefore another important challenge translators are faced with daily.

There is this idea of “noise”, caused by the cultural prism and the decoding of the recipient, that a
message can be altered due to cultural differences that interfere in the communication between two people
from different cultural backgrounds when interacting. Then, a whole different interpretation can come out of
a message which actually has another meaning. Certain gestures, for example, are considered impolite in
some countries and cultures while they are frequently used in others, which can cause offense when actually
there is no such intention behind it.

Sector expertise

Working professionally as a translator involves having sufficient knowledge and experience in

particular business fields. Translators have to be able to work with different materials. Whether it is legal
documents, marketing documents or websites, these tasks are very different. Whatever the type of document
is, a specific knowledge in the right field and industry is essential to be as accurate and reliable as possible, as
it takes a knowledge of the right vocabulary, the right procedures, etc.

For marketing documents, translators have to translate but also to adapt the message to the target market’s
culture, society and lifestyle. For example, when translating a simple slogan, the sentence has to be adapted in
another language where the rhymes won’t necessarily be the same if translated literally. This is therefore a
major difficulty for the translator and only creative translators are able to complete such tasks.

Translating specific content

Translators who must translate specific materials like fiction have to transcribe a whole story,
context, world and environment into another language. It involves creativity to transfer cultural
values and traditions and to make them understandable and adapted without altering them: the
translator has to remain true to the original piece.

When translating films for example, the right words and expressions should be chosen to fit each
scene and maintain a certain coherence. Culture then plays a major role.

For books, literary translations are about transmitting feelings, emotions and transcribing metaphors to make
the fiction travel in an adapted yet accurate way. It is often hard to keep the writing style intact, which is
another challenge translators have to deal with. The same goes for poetry: it should be handled carefully to
maintain the implicit message, the writing style and the beauty of the piece.

Translating fiction is therefore a subtle work and professionals have to pay attention to all the
cultural factors involved as well as the purpose of the original piece.