Is English and English translation difficult?

"Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /".
“Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /”.

Is there such such a thing as words that are difficult to translate?

Yes, I think there are indeed words that are difficult to translate, especially translating them into English. I would categorize words that are difficult to translate into English as words in another language for which there are no equivalent texts or utterance found in English when translated. Nonetheless, the degree of difficulty of translation into English depends on the nature of the word in another language, as well as on the English translator’s knowledge of the language in question.

To overcome this, sometimes we have to use “adaptation”, by which we replace a term with cultural connotation with a term with corresponding cultural connotation that would be familiar to readers of the English translations. This translation technique is used most often in translation of poetry, works of theatre, and advertising contents.

There is another technique we use, and we call it “borrowing”. It is translation procedure by which we use a word or an expression from the source text in the target text unmodified. In English translations, “borrowings” that are not sufficiently anglicized normally appear in italics.

However, I think the most popular method would be “paraphrasing”, by which we replace a word in the source text by a group of words or an expression in the English translations. For  instance, the Portuguese word saudade is often translated into English as “the feeling of missing a person who is gone”.  Another example is Jayus, an Indonesian word that conveys the awkward humor behind a joke delivered so badly that you can’t help but laugh. In English, we sarcastically say, “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.”

Conversely, there are English words that do not have single equivalent in other languages too. For instance, the word “logic”. As such, it is phonetically translated as 逻辑 in Chinese. Another word is “hysteria”. It is also phonetically translated as 歇斯底理 in Chinese.

An English word that has no single-word equivalent in French is “Peck”. It is thus translated into French is “Donner de coupe de la bec” or “Attack with the front of the beak.”

There are many more words that are difficult to translate. We will re-visit this again and we welcome you to come back for more!