International Thinking.™

When in Rome, do as the Romans

Translating the meaning behind the words

Have you ever experienced that feeling of sheer frustration when using an online translation machine which just won’t offer up any comprehensible solution to your linguistic dilemma? If so, you will understand the limitations of such machines, especially when it comes to culturally-specific references, idiomatic expressions, slogans and colloquialisms.

When in Rome, do as the Romans - Good translation captures the cultural meaning as well as the literal oneEven if you or one of your colleagues speaks one or more foreign languages, and to save costs you decide to do the translation internally, the result may not be as polished as you would hope. In fact, the result can often be detrimental to your company’s reputation, resulting in your message getting ‘lost in translation’. After all, translation is not just simply a matter of looking up each word in the dictionary; this merely produces a stilted piece of writing that is instantly identifiable as having been produced by someone lacking the skill to accurately render in the foreign language the full meaning of what you are trying to say.

To demonstrate what we mean, here are some examples of common expressions whose meanings can easily be lost if you are not careful:

A donde fueres, haz lo que vieres (Spanish proverb)
  • Machine Translation: To where you will be, you do what you will see
  • Literal Translation: To where you go, do the things you see
  • Dot Comma Version: Adapt yourself to the local customs
Ein Tropfen auf den heißen Stein (German proverb)
  • Machine Translation: One drop on the hot stone
  • Literal Translation: A drop on a hot stone
  • Dot Comma Version: Not enough to make a difference
A chaque jour suffit sa peine (French proverb)
  • Machine Translation: Each day has enough trouble of its
  • Literal Translation: The trouble of each day suffices
  • Dot Comma Version: You must face the problems of today without worrying about those of tomorrow
Piove che Dio la manda (Italian proverb)
  • Machine Translation: God sends the rain
  • Literal Translation: It’s raining like God is sending it
  • Dot Comma Version: It’s raining heavily

Depending on the situation, a freer and even more natural-sounding text may be required. Such situations include the translation of your company’s strapline or sales literature. Here, it is important to not just convey the meaning, but also generate a particular effect. In such situations, we recommend our PremierPLUS service. PremierPLUS translations involve an additional editing stage, and so produce something that not just sounds right, but also generates the same impact in the foreign language. Let’s look again at the above examples to see just how much of a difference this can make:

A donde fueres, haz lo que vieres (Spanish proverb)
  • PremierPLUS Version: When in Rome, do as the Romans
Ein Tropfen auf den heißen Stein (German proverb)
  • PremierPLUS Version: A drop in the ocean
A chaque jour suffit sa peine (French proverb)
  • PremierPLUS Version: Tomorrow is another day
Piove che Dio la manda (Italian proverb)
  • PremierPLUS Version: It’s raining cats and dogs

Have a look at our different translation service levels to get a better idea of what you need.

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