Why is a Literal Translation not Usually a Good Translation?

by | Jan 29, 2021 | Translation Services

Looking at any type of copy that has been translated and translating it back can appear to be confusing to some. A long time ago, the means to confirm if a translation was done correctly, was to do a back-translation. Meaning you would translate the document from English to French for example and then again translate it from French to English. Well, this is not an accurate method to confirm accuracy, but that is another subject for another day. Without knowledge of how translation actually works, it can be hard to understand why the translation should almost never be word per word.

Let’s explore the difference between a literal translation and one that is not.

What is Literal Translation?

The best way to describe a literal translation, is exactly that. It’s literal because it’s word-for-word. This means that when the copy is translated it is done so word-for-word in the same order as the original text.

The problem? Unless we are translating formulas, which then the translation has to be literal, languages from one to another do not follow the same grammar and sentence structure – so translation should almost never be literal. When it is, its sounds and it is wrong.  

What Should be a Proper Translation?

A good translation is when the reader does not know it was a translation. When the reader feels it was written for them. It is what every reader deserves. This is how every business letter should be translated. This is how books are translated, website content, etc. A proper translation does NOT translate the text word-for-word. Instead, the correct sentence structure, grammar is used in each sentence, paragraphs, to provide correct translation, taking into account, the intended meaning, the audience and subject, to ensure that the translations is accurate.

When to Use Literal or Proper Translation

The answer is simple. When literal translation breaks down the true meaning and intention of the copy OR the language rules are broken, it should not be used.

It is good practice to always use proper translation with a professional translator to get the best quality possible.

At Language Marketplace we always ensure our translations are written for each reader, audience, to the accuracy, and well written text.