Is It as Simple as Some Say? Here Are Some Common Challenges of Translation

13 September 2023

You're reading a translated novel. Events are escalating, and you're caught up in the drama. While reading, one phrase puts you off and ruins the scene you're playing in your head. It doesn't fit and seems weird. What happened there? Well, the translator might have failed at tackling the following linguistic challenges of translation.

Cultural Nuances

Yes, we know, we keep repeating this! But it's true. Cultural differences are one of the most significant challenges of translation. It goes beyond delivering a correct translation; it may trigger or insult a target audience. No business would like this to happen.


How does one translate idioms, colloquialisms, and phrases rooted deeply in cultural context? A direct translation might render a sentence nonsensical or, worse, offensive. In this case, it's all about delivering the same message and feeling of the text rather than translating it word-by-word.


Some words and phrases may have the same literal meaning but are associated with different feelings. Imagine a non-native English speaker who isn't fully aware of the connotations phrases can carry is writing an article about a beloved public figure and is trying to be creative. So instead of saying "he passed away" or "he died", they found the idiom "he kicked the bucket," unaware that this idiom will be considered disrespectful in this context. How do you think readers will react to this?

Syntax and Grammar

Not all languages are structured alike. Grammatical rules vary greatly across languages. How do you maintain the original's integrity when the source language has a structure or tense that doesn't exist in the target language? 

Think about languages like Russian, which don't always require the verb "to be" in the present tense. Translating sentences from such languages can often seem odd to English readers. 

Then, how do we maintain fluency without compromising on the original's meaning? 

Translators must have a good understanding of the grammatical nuances of both source and target language and rely on the context rather than exact words to make the translation sound natural.

Wordplay, Puns, and Poetry 

Poets and novelists often employ puns, alliteration, assonance, and many other linguistic tools to give depth to their words. But how do you translate a pun that is only relevant in one language? Is the translator tasked with inventing a new pun, or do they simply explain the original? Such decisions can deeply influence a reader's experience.

Consistency vs. Creativity 

One of the main challenges of translation is faithfulness. A good translation doesn't always mean a word-for-word rendition. Sometimes, a translator needs to get creative to relay the intended emotion or tone.


But where is the line? Should a translator prioritise an exact, literal translation or the overall feel of the text? This challenge becomes especially evident in the worlds of marketing and branding. Does "Just Do It" in English evoke the same emotion when translated directly into another language?

Technical and Specialised Texts 

Can Any Translator Tackle Any Text? A medical translator might be lost in a courtroom, and a legal translator might be puzzled by a medical journal. 

Specialised fields come with their own terminologies and conventions. It's not enough to simply know another language. Sometimes, a translator must also be an expert in the subject they're translating, especially in sensitive fields like the legal field.

Evolution of Language

Languages are living entities. They evolve, they borrow, they blend. The English we speak now is vastly different from Shakespeare's English. This evolution is considered one of the main challenges of translation. It's like translators are chasing a moving target. 

So, if languages are always changing, can a translation ever truly be definitive? How do translators ensure relevancy in a world where slang, jargon, and lexicons are in constant change? That's why professional translators must be up-to-date on the latest trends and have extensive knowledge of the field they're working within. 

The Human Touch vs. Machine Translation 

Now we come to the dilemma: Will machines ever surpass Human Translators? With advances in technology, machine translation tools have become increasingly sophisticated. They're quicker, they can handle vast amounts of text, and they're improving in accuracy. 

Getting fast results is definitely important, but can a machine understand context, emotions, or cultural sensitivity as a human does? Is the future of translation a blend of human intuition and machine precision? We actually believe so; the joining forces can maximise the results.

We Love a Challenge! 

Got a complex text full of jargon? Creative piece full of emotions and idioms? A legal text that must be translated with precision? Whatever challenge your business is facing in the translation world, our experts are here to help. 

We make sure to understand your industry, business needs, and target audience to deliver the right message that resonates and converts. 

Contact us today to learn more about our specialised translation services.