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Why you should avoid idioms in translation…

Writing text which will be translated into other languages can be quite tricky. There are some ways of making multilingual marketing communications easier to manage, one of them is to avoid idioms.

According to Wikipedia, an idiom is a combination of words which have a figurative meaning due to its common use. Therefore, the understanding of an idiom is based on sharing of the same cultural experiences.

So, what happens when we transfer such combination of words with a cultural meaning into a different culture, i.e. can idioms be translated?

Idioms are very common in all cultures and languages, and we all use them on daily basis without even realising it. However, idioms in translation can be a real nightmare for translators as the meaning is not contained in the words, but in the common use of the particular phrase.

For instance, a literal translation of ‘that’s the way a cookie crumbles’ into Polish would provide translation of the words, but not of the meaning, so a literally translated sentence with that phrase wouldn’t make sense.

In these instances translators need to deviate from the source text and use a Polish idiom with a similar meaning if one exists (this is another reason why machine translation provides unreliable translation). If the particular idiom doesn’t exist in Polish, the phrase would have to be explained in other words, which would most likely result in wordy and inelegant sentence.

Therefore, if you’re writing a marketing copy for projects with brochure translation or website translation into other languages try avoiding idioms as much as you can. It might seem like a good idea to write with phrases such as turning a new leaf or skeletons in your closet, but if the text is intended for translation it might cause some issues later on in the process.

If you really want to use a particular idiom in your communications that works well with your brand’s image or your product’s values, do involve a translation agency early on. Translators will be able to flag up the potential issues with your wording and you’ll be able to weigh up all the options at the beginning of the process.

If you’re interested in learning the origins of idioms such as: Turn a blind eye, Feeling under the weather or Spill the beans please visit here. There are some great explanations there of these idiom’s origins and their meaning.

And, as always, if you need any help with your translation requirements, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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