Translation Problems: Equivalent of Cultural Phrases

How to translate cultural phrases of a foreign language

Translating words for words is possible to be sure but the question is that whether or not the translation can fully be understood. In other words, can you get the message across well?. Accordingly, the understanding of target language's cultural elements is a must in order that communication runs effectively.

Translating English text to another language can theoretically be done as most English words can be translated to another language. However, translators should have adequate knowledge of both source and target language. For instance, a translator should master English language and its all cultural items and customs attached to it. The word Jesus in “Jesus, he’s done it alone,” cannot be translated as Jesus in the target language. Here, a translator should also have the knowledge of cultural words or phrases in the target language. In Indonesian language the word “Jesus” cannot be translated as “Jesus”.

There is a cultural word that is equivalent to the meaning of Jesus in the sentence “Jesus, he’s done it alone”. In the target language here Jesus means almost the same as “Astaghfirullah”. Let’s take a look at the word “sister”. The word sister here, which is a practical nurse, can neither be translated literally into the target language. In my own language the word “sister” here is translated as “suster”. These are only a few of many other cultural words or phrases that should be translated carefully.

Someone who knows English well does not necessarily have the ability to translate it into his or her own language without him or her knowing the culture of the target language well. Without the knowledge of cultural words or phrases in both source and target language, translated text or phrases may be of a strange or unnatural reading. You can get a better understanding of the target language by reading lots of text, which talks about people, custom, and culture. Google translate may be of a lot of help but it fails to translate cultural phrases well. So, a deep research of cultural phrases of the target language is a must for a translator.

You may find a text written in English reads rather funny. This is simply because cultural words or phrases used in the target language are translated word for word. The writer has probably forgotten to consider finding equivalents of cultural words or phrases in the target language. Here is one example of cultural phrases in the source language, which is translated literally in the target language. A phrase of “Bapak-bapak dan ibu-ibu” is literally translated as “Fathers and mothers”, which is probably strange in the target language when one delivers a speech in front of many people. The equivalent of “Bapak-bapak dan ibu-ibu” is “Ladies and gentlemen”, which should have been used by the writer.



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