Main Translation Problems – Translation Questions Answered

When taking a business global, one is likely to be subjected to various complex and frustrating translation problems along the way, regardless of the industry. Even if you are a bilingual or experienced linguist fluent in both languages, you will inevitably experience confusion and frustration from the painstaking translation process. So what are the major translation challenges posed to the translators, clients, or the translation industry? Without further ado, let’s dive into the common problems with translation.

What Makes Translation Difficult?

Globalization is a long and bumpy road full of translation obstacles to overcome. Translation between languages is difficult in various ways. But the most challenging translation problems that haunt many translators or anyone trying to make an effective localization effort lie in handling language structure, translating compound words and two-word verbs, tackling cultural differences, processing irony and sarcasm, and solving other rhetorical translation problems. We will break things down and expand a bit on each representative translation problem.

Translation Challenges in Language Structure

The conversion between different language structures is the first noticeable challenge for translators. The sentence structure can vary wildly with different languages, each with its own agreed-upon rule in sentence structure/sequence.  For example, English follows a subject-verb-object sequence. But this sequence is not shared by every language in the world. In Arabic, subject pronouns can be a part of the verb itself. And a sentence in Farsi sequentially consists of a subject, an object, and a verb. Another example: in English, the adjective comes before the noun, but in French, the adjective sits after the noun. 

Thus, translation is way more than replacing the source words with their parallel in the target language. The word order within the sentence needs to be rearranged and adapted to the appropriate structure accustomed by the speaker of the target language. On top of that, the translators must ensure nothing gets lost during the translation process. 

Translation Problem in Compound Words

A compound word combines two or more short/simple adjectives and nouns. Compound words are difficult to translate because their overall meaning doesn’t always reflect their component words’ meanings. Translators must deeply understand both languages to determine the equivalents with the closest implications. For example, the English expression “airport” is formed by combining the word “air” and “port”, which are respectively transliterated into “空氣” and “港口” in Chinese characters. However, the translation of “airport” in Chinese is “機場”. If an inexperienced translator mistranslates “airport” into “空氣港口” or “空港” in Chinese, the Chinese speakers will have a hard time relating the translated word to an airport. Even though the term “空港” exists in the Chinese vocabulary, it is used by a limited number of industries and definitely not by customers in general—other similar compound words include butterfly, bookworm, bellboy, notebook, crosswalk, deadline, etc. 

Hence, it’s vital to use a knowledgeable translator equipped with a vast and comprehensive lexical resource to avoid translation issues in compound words. Partnering with a professional translation company can help you quickly reach such a talent.  

Translation Issues with Two-word Verbs

Just like translating compound words, translating two-word verbs can be daunting, especially for inexperienced or amateur translators. As its name suggests, a two-word verb is formed by combining a verb and a preposition. In informal English, there are numerous two-word verbs whose meanings could vary vastly with combinations of the various verbs and prepositions. Take everyday examples like “come up” “bring up” “shut up” “close up” “look up” “freshen up”, etc. These phrases all end with the preposition “up”, yet with their own specific meanings due to the varying combination with different verbs placed before it. 

Two-word verbs that start with the same verb and end with a different preposition can also be used to express different meanings. Take “look for” “look up” “look into ” “look at” “look in” “look about” and “look out” as examples. These phrases all start with “look” and end with different prepositions, resulting to distinct meanings and usage. 

Even the same combination of a verb and a preposition can have multiple meanings. For instance, the verb “break up” has at least six different meanings, which can be used in 6 different contexts. 

As a result, tackling the translation issues with two-word verbs will require a skillful translator native to both English and the target language. They can quickly navigate the perfectly appropriate word in the target language instead of putting a literal translation together. 

Translation Problems in Sarcasm and Irony

Sarcasm and irony are other hot potatoes that require careful handling. If not appropriately translated, one irony considered witty in one language could end up an offensive one in another. In some cases, sarcasm tends to be lost in translation and become unfortunate misunderstandings or sentences that don’t make any sense in the target language. 

Sarcasm or irony is usually sharp and bitter, something not everyone is comfortable with. If you identify sarcasm and the like in your content, it’s critical to confer with the translator about whether you should keep such styles of expression in the target text or an idiom with equivalent sarcastical meaning can be found in the target language. If not, you might as well remove sarcasm for good. 

Translation Issues of Cultural Difference

The ultimate goal of successful localization is producing error-free translations that are linguistically, technically accurate, and culturally relevant. The larger the speaker’s population, the more dialects the language possesses. And different dialects can lead to many varied colloquial words and phrases used in their specific regions. And the cultural elements that need consideration can expand from currency and document format to the layout design and preferred symbols and colors.

Translation problems in culture will arise, and your brand’s image will be tarnished if you collaborate with an unreliable translator who claims to come from your target market. Are you willing to risk hurting your target audience’s sentiments or damaging their good impression of your business? 

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How to Overcome Translation Challenges?

Now that you know the main translation problems the translators face on a daily basis, how can businesses overcome these tricky challenges in translation? First and foremost, the translator who will translate the content must be proficient in only a few languages, preferably focusing on only the source and target language to fend off confusion between language sequences. Secondly, the translator must be well-versed in the lexical knowledge between the requested language pair to eliminate translation problems and literal translations when translating compound words and two-word verbs. Additionally, always prioritize in-country native translators who have a deep understanding of the local culture and vocabulary. This is particularly useful when avoiding culture-related translation problems like sarcasm and rhetorical translation issues

A quick answer to these translation questions: never attempt to translate linguistically complicated and culturally sensitive content yourself when translation accuracy matters to you and your audience. 

Summarizing Different Types of Translation

The major translation problems lie in language structure, compound words, two-verb words, and cultural nuances, which translation professionals frequently deal with daily. Even senior translators with years of working experience in a specialized field can find translating some technical documents frustrating. It is why it’s not recommended to do it yourself when it comes to professional translation. Working with experienced native translators who are fully familiar with the local lexicons and cultural requirements is always a wiser option. A reputed translation company that solves all your linguistic problems can help achieve that goal, with guaranteed quality and timeframes. If you need professional help with any translation problem, look no further than Wordspath. 

Wordspath can help

Wordspath provides many cost-effective solutions to various translation problems concerning content related to diverse subject matters with accuracy and consistency. 

We take pride in our quality-driven workflow that combines the excellent work of our linguists, desktop publishers, project managers, customer service, and technical team. Their endless support allows Wordspath to provide first-rate language solutions in 150+ languages for thousands of customers who need to connect with the world.

Wordspath also offers machine translation post-editing services translating the content with our proprietary MT engine and having our in-house/contracted linguists review,  edit, polish, and proofread the results.

Meanwhile, we are highly experienced in delivering tailor-made localization-related solutions such as desktop publishing, transcription, subtitling, and voiceover. Our ability to quickly handle a wide range of content types between nearly all language combinations sets us apart from our competitors. Should you need to consult on your best-fit language solution, you can contact us through live chat or email to Or simply request a free quote.

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