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Translation: The importance of translating into your mother tongue.

Updated on October 6, 2014

As you may know, translating is not simply transferring some texts from one language to another, the knowledge of the culture of both languages and the knowledge of such texts and its target audience plays a very important role when it comes to making a good translation. And that's why is so important that the translator focus on translating only into his mother tongue.

Imagine that you already have a website or an ebook in English and you want to expand your business to the Spanish market, to do so, you will need to translate your website into the language of your target audience. And in order to get the widest possible acceptance, when performing the translation it is very important to bear in mind the culture of the target audience.

Language is inherently linked to the culture of its linguistic community and therefore the way in which a French, Spanish or an English speaker perceives certain stimuli or react to specific situations will not be quite the same. If already exist some differences within a same linguistic community but from different countries, as it can be seen between a French speaking from Canada and France, or between an English speaking from UK, US or New Zealand, imagine how different it is between unrelated linguistics communities.

A case that reflects perfectly how a translator took into account this linguistic culture can be found in the first episode of the 2nd season of "The Big Bang Theory" show, in which Howard and Raj try to find out why Sheldon wants to move out, and Raj asks Leonard if he ever pronounced the "t" in "often". Here, the Spanish translator had to find an equivalent situation in Spanish, and made a reference to a common mistake that many Spanish speakers make, which is to pronounce the letter "ll" /ll/ as if it was an "y" /j/. This situation is called "yeísmo" and only someone with and excellent knowledge of the Spanish culture could know it.

This is why it is so important that a translator performs the translation into his/her native language, because it is not enough to have an excellent knowledge of both languages but also of its culture, and only a native speaker will be able to adapt specific concepts of the culture and find the adequate idiomatic expression in order to avoid literal translations, possible misunderstandings and inaccuracies.

© 2013 Katia De Juan


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    • Katiadejuan profile image

      Katia De Juan 4 years ago from London, UK

      Thanks for your comment Chris. I totally agree with you. To make a technical translation is not only important the linguistic itself but also a great knowledge of the technical terminology of the matter of such text, if it isn't taken into account, depends of the technical field it belongs, the result could be even dangerous. For that reason those translators who translate this kind of text should be specialized in such field.

    • CHRIS57 profile image

      CHRIS57 4 years ago from Northern Germany

      Katia - there is the word that you truly speak English if you manage to solve the crossword puzzles in the Times. A great test for language skills are said crossword puzzles indeed. I speak German, English, Russian and French, but the only languages i feel completely at home (with crossword puzzles) are German and English.

      It is certainly necessary to understand the linguistic culture, so your example may be quite on target. Can´t proove it, because i never saw anything of that show. But there is possibly a similar example in old Europe. Some years ago there was a very popular French movie "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis". The movie played with French cultural stereotypes between Southern and Northern France. Exhibit of the cultural differences was the "Picardy" dialect, spoken in parts of the North. This movie was translated to German and to do so successfully, a funny German type of the Picardian dialect had to be found. I can assure you, the German version in the end was very entertaining and quite successful. So there must have been some smart people doing the translation who followed your ideas :-)

      If we replace linguistic culture with professional culture and understanding, the picture changes a bit. So doing technical translations is a completely different issue. While still some linguistic aspects show up once in a while, the main target is to make technologic processes understandable. In my professional life i often deal with China. After years of experience we are now in a situation where technical documents in Chinese (Mandarin) are run through the Google translator, thus creating some grammatical garbage but easily getting to the basic information provided. The reason is that translators in China or in Germany may be very firm in understanding language, but not so with technical terms and processes. They may even pervert the contents because of mixing linguistic competence with technical competence.

      Great hub, well on target, voted up.

    • Katiadejuan profile image

      Katia De Juan 4 years ago from London, UK

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your vote. I'm happy you liked the article. :)

      What you are saying is true, most times when we acquire a considerably good knowledge of another language that is not our native language, we tend to think that we are so capable to translate whatever we want into such language. When I began my career as a translator I thought the same but once I started translating some texts I realized that it was necessary to know much more than the language itself and some of its culture.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      What you say in this hub is so very true. I took a test one time that was given by the Voice of America when I was considering applying for application there. Since I thought my Chinese Mandarin was very good, the test was to translate an English news article into Chinese. Not being a native Chinese and growing up in the culture, I thought the test was one of the hardest language tests I ever took in my life. Needless to say, I did not pass the test. If you want to translate into a language which is not your native language, you have to be almost bilingual and to have grown up in both cultures. Voted up and sharing.