Words that Have No Translation

When it comes to translating and interpreting across various languages, one of the biggest issues that professional human translators face relates to changing words or phrases that do not have a direct translation. Within this general category of lexical differences, there are certain specific kinds of language items that don’t ‘match’ from one language to another.

Non-Matching Words and Structural Language Differences

Many words that seem to have no accurate translation involve fundamental differences between how certain language items are approached in different languages. For example, one type of difference would be the ways that languages construct their verbs. Here’s one instance of this phenomenon involving different sets of ‘Western’ languages that, while sharing many characteristics, do still have their differences. In Spanish, French, and many other related European tongues, there is a direct verb for the idea that something has a comparative worth (ex: Span: “merecer”) In English, however, a different kind of phrase is substituted, where English speakers will simply pronounce that something “is worth” something, or ask “is it worth…(x)?” This key linguistic difference has spurred many errors, for example, in European speakers asking Americans “does (something) worth (something)” Here, the speakers could perhaps be forgiven for carrying over their own verb into a translation attempt that is, in the end, not accurate.

Non-Matching Words and Idiomatic Differences

Another category of words with no accurate translation involves the actual labels or names given to objects, places and people in a given language. This set of non-matching words expands as more and more slang and dialect are included. For example, if a person from one language culture uses a local food, let’s say tofu, in a phrase like “tofu-eater,” a person from another language community must respond by figuring out whether that phrase has any inherent meaning in their own language. If not, the listener must ask the speaker more about what the particular label means and how it is used in context, in order to create a new phrase in their own language that parallels the meaning.

Handling Words With No Translation

Essentially, professional human translators work around this issue, in many cases, by creating new words and phrases that mirror the significance of non-translatable words. These substitutions can be elaborate descriptions, or simple single words that may roughly correspond to how a unique word is used in its original tongue. In other words, there’s a lot of fact-finding that goes into high-level translation, and research supporting the carrying of one linguistically labeled concept from one language to another.

Human Translation vs Computer Translation

Everyday people use computers to look up the meanings of words and phrases. Sometimes computers can be accurate and provide a basic meaning of a word or sentence. The rise in the use of computer translations has caused some to doubt the usefulness of human translation. While it is true that computer translation programs and websites are more prevalent, they are not taken seriously by professionals. Professional human translation services are very much necessary for anything beyond personal use.

Computer Translation

Computer translation is a popular, yet inefficient alternative to human translation. There are many different websites and computer programs that translate words into English as well as other languages. Many of these websites of free translations that are often completed within minutes, but they are really inappropriate for any type of professional endeavor. Machine translations are typically literal translations of the words on the page and they take no consideration about the context or cultural associations of the words and phrases. Relying on a computer program for translation can lead to a lot translation blunders that can make a person or company seem unprofessional. Although a program may provide an accurate translation of a word, it will begin to falter when it comes across complex phrases, sentences, and idioms. These programs rarely offer smooth, cohesive translations. Computer translations are suitable for people at home who want to get an idea of about what something means in another language.

Human Translation

Human translation is essentially a requirement for any type of serious professional endeavor whether it is a translation of a legal document or a literature book. Computer programs may understand the meaning of certain words, but they are unable to effectively translate the complexities and nuances of language. They lack the cultural background and knowledge to understand the context of a complex sentence or phrase. Human translation ensures that the document will sound natural and effectively communicate the original meanings. Medical, legal, and government documents are usually handled by human translators because translations used in these situations demand accuracy. Even if a computer has translated a word, it does not know how to perform localization, which is another way to further express the meaning of the document in the vernacular of the people that will read it. Human translation may take longer, but it provides a level of accuracy that computers are not able to perform.

Computers have come a long way, but they are still unable to provide accurate translations in most situations. It is acceptable to use them at home to research a couple of words and phrases, but the more complex tasks must be left to professional language services that only humans can provide.

The Future of Localization: Too “Fuzzy”, Part 4

This post is the final instalment of a 4 part series that examines the state of the localization industry and where it is headed in the future through use of new technology.

Translators already experienced in segment-based systems may rebel against this abandonment of the fuzzy match. After all, the fuzzy match is often used as a negotiation tool for acquiring work from an agency. Translators sacrifice a percentage of their full-word rate in return for the promise of the fuzzy match ROI.

The rebellion will be short-lived however. As pointed out above, term-based translation systems allow the client to have greater ownership of the memory and therefore expect greater ROI out of them. The days of the “review charge” based on exact and/or fuzzy matches are fading quickly. Translation agencies will be selling translation for one price only. Every segment without an exact match will be charged at a full-word rate, and the true competition for work among agencies will boil down to how well the online, term-based translation system can provide the best possible reference (think “translation experience”) for the translator.

Agencies will offer reduced rates based on this new cloud technology and experience. Margins will shrink, but so will overhead. Lots and lots of overhead. Our Verbingo technology has proven to shave 2-4 hours of time performing wasteful tasks on a basic, average project of 10K words into just one language. Tasks such as file prepping, material transferring, project importing, checking, troubleshooting, etc. can be reduced from hours to minutes using these new online tools. And that’s not to mention the practical elimination of everyday risks such as equipment and power failures.

Translators need to understand this business mindset, and that it’s inevitably on the way, if not already here. However, as agencies shift their sales discounts from segment-based to term-based processes, translators should also expect a similar shift in the way they expect to be paid. After all, if the fuzzy is to be eliminated, all that remains is translation at full-word price.

And why not? Why shouldn’t every word be paid at full price regardless of the level of matching?

In my opinion, translators stand to gain in this transition. The onus lies squarely on the shoulders of agency owners as they decide how to update their old systems with this new technology. New systems will allow translators to break free of the “fuzzy” hold and expand instead with new and creative ways to peruse entire databases of reference. The ability to provide an accurate and consistent translation can now lie 100% in the hands of the translator, and agencies offering the best translation experience will be the ones attracting the best translators, working out the best payment arrangements and expecting the best results for their clients.

Quite simply, if a segment can be presented to a translator as follows where client-approved terms are highlighted, and any further reference can be obtained by any number of intuitive, simple searches, the speed and efficiency of the translator will increase as will the potential for income. A flawed fuzzy match in this case might not only cause a good translator to question or distrust the translation memory, but also put him at risk of perpetrating potential errors and providing shoddy work.


This is a positive shift in our industry. Technology can now be put to work as a true value-add instead of a partial value-add. Translation memories can begin to be better managed, trusted and leveraged without spending wasteful energy on meaningless edits. Translators can spend more time providing translation instead of doing file management, software management and memory management. More time spent translating at a full-word rate means more opportunity for existing and future talent to make a good income while practicing their translation craft. The future of this industry is predicted to be bright, but not before it becomes less “fuzzy.”

Translation & Confidentiality

When it comes to translation services, there is no better way to meet your demands than putting your trust in a professional translator. Choosing the right service is entirely dependent on your personal needs and preferences – but one thing you can always be sure of with reliable, human translating is that all documents will remain strictly confidential; there is no reason to opt for another, automatic translation service in fear that the job will be lacking in confidentiality in the hands of another human being.

To be sure that any rights to confidentiality are not at risk, it is important that clients choose to limit their choice of service providers when making contact to acquire a quote. Instead of going for five providers, clients are better off sticking to two or three. This is the first step in making certain that the given documents will remain secure.

When contact with the specific translation company has been made, clients will usually be asked for the entire document for translation before the most precise possible quote can be provided. In this case, it can be a good idea to inquire into sending a sample document which does little in giving away any identifying particulars. Consider providing the service provider with a description of the document summary, word count, subject, title and language – if translation services are aware of the confidentiality of the document, they will usually provide a pretty accurate quote without the actual document.

Once a service provider has been settled on, the importance of the said document’s confidentiality should always be stressed. Clients may go into details and take advantage of their freedom to inquire – How many people are likely to be handling this document? Does the specific service keep hard copies locked safely away? What happens to the hard copy after it is no longer needed? Vague “guarantees” should never be enough to convince. It is always wise to assert the right to have a non-disclosure signed.

The word “confidentiality” is defined as “ensuring that information is only accessible to those permitted access”. In reliable human translating services, all personal information that is exchanged between professional and client will stay confidential – everything is processed in secrecy and with total confidentiality by the translator, interpreter, graphic designer and consultants. All Verbatim Solutions professional translators are well versed in the subject of confidentiality and proper handling of confidential documents.

Language Barriers in Everyday Life

For those who are immersed in a second language that is not their own, and in other situations where people need to understand each other across language barriers, there are some significant challenges in the process of listening, speaking and understanding others whose native language differs from one’s own. Looking closely at some of these issues helps those struggling with a language to bridge some of these gaps and communicate more effectively.


One big issue with comprehension in most languages is that native speakers tend to talk extremely fast. Even though those who are part of a local language community might not think that they’re talking at a particularly rapid pace, those with less understanding of the language can often struggle to keep up. In peer-to-peer native language situations, vowel and consonant sounds get shortened or eliminated altogether, some syllables get stunted or lost, and words get strung together in ways that really challenge the ear. This is a major issue for those who need to understand and speak a second language.

Phonetic Differences

Another big challenge is that each language has its own very particular tones and sounds, and its own rules for when these tones and sounds are used. It is frustratingly easy for one sound to shift into another, so that native speakers of a language will hear a different word, or a word that doesn’t even exist. Once that single word is lost to the listener, they are often left asking the speaker “what did you say?” This causes frustration for everyone involved and is a major hurdle in language fluency.

Impromptu Speaking

Even native speakers of a language often have problems with impromptu speaking, especially in front of crowds. There is the element of nervousness or stage fright, along with the fact that those speaking publicly cannot really plan their speech 100%. Speakers can work off of notes or ideas in their head, but in many cases, when it comes time to put these ideas together, precise phrases and transitional words can be hard to find. This can make their presentation less understandable to a group, again, leading to frustrations with this sort of inherent language barrier.

Other big challenges with language acquisition include the use of dialect or slang, along with the use of cultural references and idioms that can end up making no sense to someone who’s not accustomed to them. All of these challenges confront someone who is brave enough to tackle the task of becoming fluent in a second language or speak across linguistic and cultural lines.

The Future of Localization: Too “Fuzzy”, Part 3

This post is part of a 4 part series that examines the state of the localization industry and where it is headed in the future through use of new technology.

The “exact” match, aka duplicate, repetition, internal match. When a document is presented for translation, the first and best type of match hoped for is this one. This type of match means that an exact match of the entire source segment has been located in the memory, and a corresponding translation is present. The more of these types of matches, the better the savings! But wait…

What if the translation memory is useless / harmful as pointed out above? What if a post-translation edit was introduced to those segments but not retro-fit into the memory? Translation agencies have learned to point this out to the client and admit that it is an industry-wide flaw. Clients have learned to accept that flaw. Both sides usually compensate with some kind of “review” charge. Basically, an “exact” match usually never provides 100% ROI to the client in a segment-based search engine.

Ironically, in a term-based search the presence of a flawed translation is glaringly evident, as is the correct translation. For example, this illustration shows how a search on “purchase order” results in dozens of matches (only 7 shown). A quick glance at the list will reveal any inconsistency with that term in most, if not all, contexts.


Potentially inconsistent or questionable terms can be brought to a team leader’s attention where decisive and thorough action can be taken. Verbingo, for example, allows terms to be managed via a dashboard accessible not only by the translator but also by the client, client reviewer, project manager, etc.

When the translation memory is accessible in a term-based manner the ownership of it can be transferred to the client, where it belongs. Once an agency delivers the translation of a project, the client can then spot-check or review the translation as desired, and a certain level of maintenance can be agreed-upon (think “review”), but the ultimate ownership can now lie directly in the client’s hands. Terms can be changed by reviewers or end-users as needed without the approval, or even involvement, of the translation agency. A simple search/replace can assure all high-level, important terms are kept consistent and accurate.

By taking control of the translation memory, the client can now expect three things: 1) 100% ROI on exact matches, meaning 2) no more automatic “review” charges resulting not only in a cost savings, but also 3) a potentially drastic time savings. And if this is the case, we translation agencies MUST accept that there should be NO charge whatsoever to a client for exact matches.

So where does that leave the “fuzzy” match? I’ve always viewed fuzzy matches as big boulders teetering on pointed mountains. One tiny, little push can result in a big effect, either positive OR negative. After all, the entire concept of fuzzy matching is based on the edit of an existing translation, and as pointed out above, most translation memories are poorly maintained at best. Clients and agencies have been accepting the flawed concept of “exact” matches for years; what hope can there be for accepting the editing of flawed matches? Clients and agencies need to stop wasting their time and money on these processes. As with exact matches, the value in fuzzy matches is never 100% of what it appears to be in segment-based engines.

And for the same reasons mentioned above, if translation professionals and clients can accept that even flawed translation memories have some value in term-based searches, then perhaps we can begin to apply less value to the “fuzzy” match and its inherent flaws and instead apply more value to the overall ability of the translation tool to enable the best possible reference for every term in a segment. In other words, it’s easier and cheaper to maintain a translation memory on a term-by-term basis, than it is on a segment-by-segment basis.

Consider the example below. If a translator were to rely on a fuzzy match to assist him with reference for improved accuracy and/or speed, he would be greatly disappointed as the translation for (and valuable reference stored in) the segment “Your database has now been configured and is ready for use.” will not be found by any current segment-based search. Only a term-based system will, and should, allow “is ready for use” to find a valuable match in the memory.





Up Next: The Next Phase

Tips for Buying Translation Services

Whether you’re doing business with a company overseas or you’re buying a vacation home in another country,  you may need the services of a translation company. Working with a translation company is more reliable than working with freelancers, since the company is established and must follow stricter guidelines in translating documents or audio files.  Since you’ll most likely be unfamiliar with the language you need translated, you’ll have to fully trust that the translation service provided is accurate in every way. Here are a few tips to follow in order to find a reputable translation service company for your translation needs.

Tip 1 – Know the Difference Between Oral and Written Fluency

Although you may be tempted to hire a translator who fluently speaks the language you want translated as a first language, keep in mind that there is a significant difference between oral translation and written translation. Make sure the people you hire have both oral understanding of the language and written fluency of the language. This way you can make sure that every document they translate it translated professionally.

Tip 2 – Resist the Urge to Use Software

There are literally hundreds of software programs available boasting the ability to translate any language into English or English into any language. However, these are just rough translations. These programs lack the ability to pinpoint the subject matter.  In addition, translation software translates language based on common words; however there are many words used in business that aren’t considered common, so the translation program will not translate these accurately. Make sure the company you chose does not base their translation services on the use of translation software.

Tip 3 – Note the Difference Between Interpretation and Translation

If you have something that needs to be translated immediately, make sure the company you choose can  provide expedited service. However, if you have an audio file or you having a conversation that needs translating real-time, you’ll need to hire an interpreter. Interpreters are usually able to interpret language as well as translate written documents. Interpreters have the ability to listen to a language and translate it immediately. Translators may take a little more time to convert one language into another, so they may not be able to perform the service in real-time.

Tip 4 – Hire Professionals

The best way to know that you are getting the most accurate translation service is to hire well-educated translators or interpreters. Some translation service companies hire individuals who belong to well-established translation associations. These translators are highly-credible. Some examples of translation associations would be the Finish Association of Translators and the Japan Association of Translators.

Tip 5 – Understand The Need for More Time

Most translation services set deadlines based on the length of audio or per page.  However, from time to time the translator may contact you to let you know that they require more time with the document or audio file, especially if it’s difficult in nature. Always plan for a day or two extra for more difficult translations, some services take weeks to translate these types of documents.

Following these tips can keep you ahead of your competition while also ensuring that your business gains the reputation it deserves. Our goal is to provide you with an easy and seamless translation service experience.

A Second Language and Dementia

For most people, learning a second language is a pursuit taken up out of necessity rather than for the honorable love of learning.  Students may find the courses a required part of their educational curriculum.  Professionals need to be able to communicate with others on a global stage.  Both are very important reasons for delving into a foreign language.

But, it seems learning a second language has an added benefit far greater than the immediate goals of the learner.  In addition to better grades or more lucrative business deals, a second language may actually help fight the symptoms of dementia and other types of illnesses affecting memory including Alzheimer’s disease.  Research has shown a direct link between bilinguals and delayed onset of memory loss symptoms.  People who spoke two or more languages began suffering symptoms up to four years later than their monolingual counterparts.   While a second language isn’t a cure for dementia and won’t stop the effects of the disease, the brains of multilinguals were better equipped to cope with the initial signs and symptoms.

How Does This Work?

While scientists are still searching for all the definitive answers to the brain, they have uncovered some interesting information on its inner workings particularly with regard to studying an additional language.  As with the muscles in your body which you exercise to make stronger, the brain responds to increased activity.   Learning a language other than that of your mother tongue increases the brain’s size and in essence rewires some of the cognitive functions performed.  It is this rewiring, this forming of a redundant cognitive system which allows the brain to function that much longer for individuals prone to these types of illnesses.

Do I Have to Be Fluent to Reap the Benefits?

There is no quantitative evidence to determine the correlation between skill level and the delay of dementia symptoms.  The current studies have only dealt with individuals who had some degree of proficiency. That being said, it is believed that people who learn a new language can reap some if not all of the benefits as a fluent individual.  And, just like those pushups in gym class, if you haven’t done anything since the 10th grade, you’re probably no longer seeing any real benefits.  It’s time to dust off the thinking cap and get to work.

Scientist are continuing to study the effects learning an additional language has on the brain to better understand which language combinations produce the greatest cognitive protection.  For example, if a person learns two Romance Languages will he reap the same benefits as an individual learning English and Russian?  Such studies may eventually point to a therapeutic treatment for memory illnesses to enhance the results of the chemical treatments now available.  For now, if you truly want to combat the fear of dementia, try enrolling in a language class.

Optimizing your Document for More Efficient Translation

Any time that a client wants to get professional and error-free translation for a document or set of documents, there are some important things that those ordering these results can do to optimize what they get back from a professional translation firm. Here are some of the items that help to make sure documents will be ready to translate, and will get translated in the best possible way.

Organize and Paginate – documents must be well organized and clearly paginated in order to provide translation professionals with the clearest guide for how the results will be formatted. Translation can change the length of a document, which makes this kind of organization even more important.

Specify Localization or Target Dialect – without a very detailed understanding of what language community will be reading the documents, translators may not be able to match client needs as well. For languages that have various regional dialects or different language communities, it’s critical for clients to point out where a readership will generally come from, and what kind of dialect they will be expecting from the printed page.

Clearly Express Overall Goals and Objectives – for items like marketing materials, and for many other kinds of business documents , it’s absolutely important for clients to emphasize their major goals for a translated document. Often, documents provide some of their own context, but a fuller context will give translators a better vantage point to work from in making word choices and otherwise reaching out to a readership.

Clarify Any Proprietary Language or Jargon, As Well As Branding – another potential problem with translation results has to do with any language that is not part of the standard lexicon in the destination language, or the language that the translated document will be written in. This includes a lot of industry-specific wording that may not easily translated. It also includes brand names, which are translated differently than a standard lexical set. All of these must be accounted for in order to ensure the best results from the translation of any type of business project or other document.

Communicate Additional Notes As Needed – along with all of the above, there is much more that a client can tell a translation firm about what they want translated results to look like, and what they want to deliver to an audience. This can include style clarifications, issues of source attribution, or anything else that relates to a given project.

All of these essential tips help clients to communicate well with our translation team in order to get back something that looks like the original image you had in their mind when you ordered translation services. Professionals utilize all of the feedback they receive to come up with precisely targeted documents that reflect a client in the best possible way and have the maximum effect on readers.

Benefit of Localizing your Marketing Materials

Companies with an international or global reach are quickly realizing that there’s a lot of value in making their marketing or outreach materials more precisely targeted to a particular audience. This is often called “localization” and is pursued along with other marketing efforts such as technical translation of documents into multiple languages. Localization is becoming a higher standard that companies use to make sure that they get what they want out of international or multi-lingual campaigns. Project managers, creative directors, and others are looking at how to secure services that can work localization into various parts of a campaign, from brochures and visual ads to web content and printed slogans on different kinds of product marketing inventories, and using professional, highly trained experts to perform quality assurance on their efforts.

Principles of Localization

What localization takes into account is that technically translated communications are often more effective when they appeal to a particular local dialect and culture. Here, the idea is that language, to a local audience, is much more than a set of words or “lexicon.” It’s the way words and sentences are said, along with references to local culture and customs that help the language seem authentic, to give communications the appeal of “language on the street” rather than artificial or formal language of many technical communications.

Why Localize Marketing Materials?

When people read marketing documents or take in marketing campaigns in any media format, they’re more likely to pay attention to things that ‘sound the way they do.’ Many technically translated marketing documents may not sound quite right; they don’t have the common mannerisms, characteristics, and inflections that a local population uses every day. Materials can sound wooden, stilted, out of touch, or even forced or contrived. Professional translators who can match results to a local population through localization deliver a much different set of results: materials that engage, that catch the listener’s or reader’s attention, and that fit into a local culture seamlessly.

Benefits of localization include better customer loyalty over time, higher rates of conversion, better returns on investment, and a better reputation for the business that’s behind the marketing campaign. All of this is accomplished through the same principle of “language precision” that suggests that in order to be effective, language has to really match a local community, and not just a technical standard. Think about using professional translation firms to work localization into what you use to reach out to customers.